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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Space pens

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

27-03-2008 22:52 CDT


When I was a graduate student at Brown I was privileged to interact with all sorts of great planetary scientists, among them several Russians with whom my advisor Jim Head had been working for decades. Alexander "Sasha" Basilevsky especially was a fixture at Brown, and was very patient with my various inquiries about what the heck was going on in Magellan radar images of Venus. Sasha would know the answers; he's an expert on the geology of the Moon, Mars, and Venus, and was instrumental in establishing a science agenda for the early, otherwise politically motivated Russian exploration of space.

One of my fond memories of Sasha is of him telling a lengthy story in his very deliberate, heavily accented (but perfectly comprehensible) English. I won't attempt to recreate the complete story -- it was a well-worn (but then new to me) joke about America spending millions of dollars to develop a pen that would allow astronauts to write in space -- but I distinctly remember his delivery of the punch line, which was: "In Rrrrussia, ve use pencil."

Well, Astroprof has just posted a lengthy discourse on the legend of the space pen, and it turns out to be quite an interesting story and not at all a joke. You'll learn something -- you can surprise your friends with a new word, "thixotropic"! -- so go read.

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