Would it be possible to make a sharpie or a dry-erase marker that would work in a vacuum? Would they already work? To that end could you make a dry erase board or some such?

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    Reminder to close-voters: The problem cannot be fixed if the OP is not made aware of it. – Frostfyre Oct 23 at 12:24
  • This question is better suited for the Chemistry StackExchange. chemistry.stackexchange.com – Ryan_L Oct 24 at 0:37
  • It would significantly help if you provided more details why you need this. While you already have a direct answer to your question it might be that some replacement can be even more suitable for your needs. – Ister Oct 24 at 8:49
up vote 9 down vote accepted

The problem with markers is that they contain volatiles.

You could sidestep that with older tech that uses nonvolatiles to make a mark. Examples:

1: Chalk board on slate or dark substrate.

2: Crayon or wax pencil on glass or opaque light colored substrate.

3: Pencil on light substrate.

Or use an Antigravity Space Pen like the astronauts did!

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-nasa-spen/

Unlike most ballpoint pens, Fisher's pen does not rely on gravity to get the ink flowing. The cartridge is instead pressurized with nitrogen at 35 pounds per square inch. This pressure pushes the ink toward the tungsten carbide ball at the pen's tip.

The ink, too, differs from that of other pens. Fisher used ink that stays a gellike solid until the movement of the ballpoint turns it into a fluid. The pressurized nitrogen also prevents air from mixing with the ink so it cannot evaporate or oxidize.

The article states that such pens were used on the space shuttle and in the space station, and you can buy one for $50.

  • Unless you want exactly the same thing, why pay $50? $12: amazon.com/Fisher-NonReflective-Military-Matic-SM4B/dp/… – Loren Pechtel Oct 23 at 3:28
  • The beauty of NASA... spend millions designing a pen that works in Zero-G, a marvel of ingenuity... the Russians on the other hand use a pencil... – Blade Wraith Oct 23 at 10:03
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    @BladeWraith ... says the urban legend. The alas duller truth is that Fisher developed the pen on private funds, and both NASA and the Russian space agency bought it. Also, use a crayon, not a pencil. Pencils produce microparticles of flammable carbon, something you do not want in a zero-g closed life-support. – Eth Oct 23 at 11:28
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    @eth... i'm going to go away and hold a minutes silence for the loss of the great NASA pen urban legend... we shall not see its like again. – Blade Wraith Oct 23 at 11:34

Human ingenuity knows no bounds so the simple answer to your question is. Yes, No, Yes.

Simply put, if you want something to work in a vacuum, as long as there is enough incentive, someone will make it. To that end, no one is going to make a sharpie or dry erase marker work in a vacuum.

As for the No, to them working in a vacuum, sharpies and dry markers still store their ink as a liquid. The problem with liquids in a vacuum is that they will often boil then freeze. Its not about the temperature. Its just that there is 0 pressure which forces them to change states very fast. Any ink in your pens is likely to undergo a similar process, blocking the sharpie or rupturing it as the ink inside expands and solidifies.

As for the yes's. There is already a space pen that works without gravity. I'm not sure how the ink works in a vacuum, because I doubt an astronaut will worry about bringing a pen and paper with them while they are going out for a spacewalk. It would also be far more useful to record your voice while in space, or have someone else over the communication line write it down for you. If you let go of that pen, its probably going to drift slowly away form you, and you will likely have more important work to do than making physical notes when other mediums exist.

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    Plus wearing a spacesuit really limits dexterity, so writing while wearing one is very difficult. – John Locke Oct 23 at 1:03
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    I believe the space pen works fine even in vacuum--but good luck writing while in a spacesuit. It does matter, though, because small space capsules lack airlocks, everything in them must take vacuum if the astronaut goes EVA. – Loren Pechtel Oct 23 at 3:24
  • @LorenPechtel I'm a bit confused by your comment... What matters? – Shadowzee Oct 23 at 3:35
  • @Shadowzee Vacuum resistance. An ordinary pen will have an issue with the solvent boiling off, a space pen doesn't use solvent. – Loren Pechtel Oct 23 at 7:18
  • Fisher Space Pen "The Fisher Space Pen is a gas-charged ball point pen that is rugged and works in a wider variety of conditions, such as zero gravity, vacuum and extreme temperatures. Its thixotropic ink and vent-free cartridge release no significant vapor at common temperatures and low pressures." – JollyJoker Oct 23 at 8:37

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