Airgun Hobbyist meets the “Air” Pen
During SHOT, we come across some interesting and unique products. This year, it was the Fisher Space Pen! I had the opportunity to speak with Joshua Skidmore a couple times at SHOT and several time since. Below is a phone conversation about the Space Pen, or what I like to call the “Air Pen” as it works by using compressed gases.
TS: I’m finding more uses for the pen you gave me at SHOT.
JS: That’s the name of the game for us. I’ve been doing some research to see where people work, who have been buying our product. We’ve been selling a lot to police officers in Alaska, Minnesota, North Dakota, and the reason why that is our pens are the only ones that don’t freeze in their patrol car overnight. Most ink pens, in that area will freeze if they’re left in the car.
TS: I was looking at the assortment of pens that you offer, the one that I find interesting is the pen that has a level and ruler built in.
TS: I’ll tell you why. I was out testing an airgun for accuracy and wanted to measure the groups. But when I came in, I couldn’t find a ruler. I was thinking, the pen with a ruler would be useful.
JS: That’s a market, we created that contractor tool. It was a gift for dad type idea. It’s a great thing to have around the house for little fixer-uppers. It looks good on your desk.
TS: I also wonder if the level would be useful for mounting a scope?
JS: Actually, you’re probably right. The nice thing is the model of pen inside it, is a stowaway pen we manufacture. The stowaway is a real thin, small pen. It’s about 3 ½” long and around a ¼” in diameter. It’s great for people who want to put it in a journal or into their hiking pack. You can put a couple in your camping gear.
TS: I noticed you offer customized engraving.
JS: Yes, we do.
TS: Another pen that got my attention was the bright yellow/green.
JS: It’s fluorescent. Construction companies really need that.
TS: Could you tell me the story of how the pen was created for use in space? Is it true that a pencil is dangerous in space?
JS: Basically what happens is the vacuum gravity free environment in space, the shaving from the pencil, the graphite will get inside the spacecraft. Graphite is flammable, but not the amount from a pencil would be that flammable. What happens is the shavings, get into the controls, the electronic boards. They can often get into the eyes of the astronauts. They can’t use water to clear their eyes, that’s a big thing. If they get something in their eyes, there’s no way to be able to use water to flush that. If you get graphite in your eyes, it could blind you. They did use pencils at first, but they have not used them since our pens came out. Russian cosmonauts still use our products to this day. The really cool point to that story is that we were the first item ever sold on TV from space.
JS: Yeah, we sold it on QVC back in February of 1998. We have Russian Cosmonauts on the MIR space station, that are talking about the functionality of the pen with a Russian translator, live on TV. We sold over 50,000 pens over the period of a few weeks. We talk about the Russians and the graphite, yet in 1998 we show cosmonauts selling our pen live on TV. When I go to trade shows, people will shout out “Russians use pencils” and they did at first. Once they realized what can happen using graphite pencils in that environment, they switched to use our pens. The only two writing devices used in space now, is the Fisher Space Pen and a felt tip marker.
TS: I didn’t know if that was true or a myth.
JS: They did use them at first, but it created problems with the electrical boards, we came out with our technology, and they heard about it, and as soon as NASA adopted it, Russia adopted it.
TS: Those small particles are enough to cause a problem?
JS: Yes. If you imagine if an astronaut is on a space craft for six months at a time, the build up of the graphite over time could be detrimental to the electrical boards. Or their eyes for that matter. It’s weird, if you think about “What’s the big deal in that?” Well, everything floats in space. It’s not like there’s a vacuum pulling it out to outer space like a vent. It’s stays there.
TS: It’s like a fish bowl, for lack of a better way of saying it. Everything that enters, stays there.
JS: Yes, that’s really what it kind of is.
TS: How did the concept of charging the pen with nitrogen come from?
JS: It’s actually not just nitrogen. There’s mix of gases that are in there. Paul Fisher, the founder of the company, he started working with different resins. The first refill that they made, they tried to pressurize them. The problem was, if you take a normal refill, and you open it up, the ink comes out like water. Not with our ink. It’s more like tar, molasses, if you will. We took traditional ink and infused rubber elements from tires, resins that were involved in manufacturing tires and put them into our ink. Which allowed the ink to get thicker, the technology had to be between the amount of pressure, the viscosity of the ink and the restraint on the tip to allow that ink to perfectly flow through the ball of the pen. There’ a lot of science behind it.
TS: Is that a ball bearing used for the tip?
JS: Yeah, for lack of a better term. They are tediously manufactured to unique specs. And applied with the correct amount of pressure, with our ink, allows for the best writing experience. If you were to put pressure on the ink of a regular pen, it would just shoot out like a squirt gun. We still have an ink master. He’s the guy that’s in charge of the make-up of our ink.
TS: The pens are made in Boulder City, Nevada?
JS: They are. We have a 30,000 square foot facility for manufacturing. All of our ink pens, refills, connectors are manufactured right here. One hundred percent of all our pens are assembled right here. The pens are put together by hand.
TS: The shelf life of the pen is decades or more?
JS: A true story. We pulled a refill before we went on Fox News, Mornings with Maria, we were featured on the show. We pulled a refill, still in the packaging, from 1969. The same time as the Apollo 11 mission, and it still wrote, fifty years later. The shelf life on the refills is 100 years. We routinely, get in pens that are 30 years old, that are found in a car, that their dad owned, and when they passed away, the family member was going through the glove box and found the Fisher Space Pen, and it still writes.
The Space Pen will write out three times longer than the average pen. The average ball point pen will get about one mile in write out, on the average, about 4000 to 5000 feet. On ours, it’s three times longer. There’s a case to be made that you don’t have to buy our pens as often.
TS: Are the Space Pens collectible too?
JS: If you look at the stories of Cross and Parker that were made in America, you still won’t find a better story than the Fisher ball point pen story. The fact that it’s a family owned business. Paul Fisher, the founder of the company was in politics. He lost in the New Hampshire primary to President Kennedy. Kennedy won the primary and Paul conceded and no longer ran for president. There’s a lot of really unique history on the company. Along with our ties to NASA and the patented technology, that really separates us, in our category.
TS: Fisher lost to Kennedy, and then ended up creating a pen that went into space?
JS: Exactly! Kennedy was President at the time when the moon mission was conceived. If you look at the way the story is intertwined, it’s a great feel good conversation. Most people receive their first Fisher Space Pen from a family member. There’s a story behind it. We like to tell people, these are things you can pass down to your kids someday.
TS: Thanks for you time, Joshua, if people would like to learn more about the Space Pen, where should they look?
JS: They can visit spacepen.com.
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