It was a time of tension in the US, and we were striving against a foreign power in proxy wars all across the globe and in a grander, non-combat theater for world leadership. The Space Race was in full effect, and the old methodologies and technologies were not suited for the new environment so far above the Earth. Yet even in this unprecedented time of advancement, some basic needs never disappeared.
Beyond our atmosphere all of these are critical. Even in space things needed to be written, and the old way of doing things became a danger to the mission.
The anecdote that NASA spent millions to develop a pen and the Russians just used a pencil is a nice story about waste versus frugality, but it is completely false. Pencil lead is actually graphite, an isomer of carbon that is highly flammable and not exactly suited for a space vehicle. Traditional ball point pens are gravity fed so fail in zero G environments too. A solution needed to be created.
No, the government did not pay millions to develop a “space pen”. It was not centralized planning or the US Government that solved this problem. It was a small private company that developed a solution that worked in the extremes of space: microgravity, vacuum, insane cold, and intense solar radiation unfiltered by the atmosphere. For a cost of $2.39 each ($18.12 in 2021 dollars), the Fisher Space Pen was effective and safe and even available to individuals today.
Today is like those times. Wars, recessions, political strife, social inequality. Business concerns, economic fears.
Don’t count on centralized planning to come and give you the tools you need.
Nor the government.
Look to the innovators, the experts devoting their souls to solving specific problems you encounter in your mission. These will provide you the individual tools that cost effectively get you what you need to get you where you are going, be it MDRT or beyond. Invest in yourself so that you can solve the problems you will inevitably encounter, and do not be afraid to challenge the existing thinking and try something different.
Or just be stuck on the ground, looking up at the stars and wondering why others can reach them.