There is a famous story from the so-called space race that raged during the 1960s, about American Nasa scientists struggling to ensure an ink pen would work in the zero gravity environs of outer space, while the scientists from the USSR simply equipped their cosmonauts with pencils.
True or not, the tale demonstrates the deep rivalry between two superpowers. The USSR, of course, was the first to put a person into orbit when it successfully launched (and brought home) Yuri Gagarin in 1961, but it was America who snatched the biggest prize of all when it landed Apollo 11 on the dark side of the moon exactly 50 years ago this month.
On July 16,1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin took off in Apollo 11, bound for the Moon, which they reached four days later. Armstrong and Aldrin then spent two-and-a-half hours on the dusty surface, making them the first humans to set foot on another astronomical body, a feat Armstrong marked with his famous (but flawed) words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Given the uniqueness of the occasion, Armstrong later quipped he hoped history would grant him “leeway for dropping the syllable”.
Although the Moon landing may feel like a long time ago to some, in reality, scientists and countries have never stopped striving for the stars. This year, the United Arab Emirates will send its own astronaut outside the Earth's atmosphere, aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft. Hazzaa Al Mansouri will become the first Emirati astronaut to blast off this September, along with the mission’s Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and American astronaut Jessica Meir. Selected, trained and supported by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), Al Mansouri is part of an ambitious UAE National Space Programme.
To help commemorate these linked human endeavours, Italian pen-maker Montegrappa has found an interesting way to meld the past with the future.
It has created a unique pen inspired by the famous Saturn V rocket that took the astronauts to the Moon. Featuring the three "stages" of Saturn V (the sections that drop away during the flight), the design also pays homage to this region, with the addition of the UAE flag, and a dedication to MBRSC in the form of its logo on the pen's cap.
Of the pen, Salem Al Marri, assistant DG at the Space Centre, commented: “We are delighted to receive this special memento from Montegrappa, which reminds us that everything we are able to achieve comes from the vision of our great leaders to create a country in which we value education, scientific exploration and push the limits of human progress. Mankind’s ability to reason, to write, and pass our learnings and values through generations is at the core of this philosophy. In the words of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum [the Vice President and the Ruler of Dubai]: ‘The pen and knowledge are mightier than all other powers.'”
The one-of-a-kind pen, which is not for sale, will be on display at the Montegrappa boutique in The Dubai Mall during the month of July, before it is presented to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.