Twilio shops, Uber and Lyft IPO scuttlebutt, and Instacart raises $600M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we had the Three Excellent Friends (Connie Loizos, Danny Chrichton, and Alex Wilhelm) on hand to kick things about with Scale Venture Partner’s own Rory O’Driscoll.

As I’ve written the last few weeks, what a pile of news we’ve had recently. And like the last few episodes, we had to pick and choose what to drill into. This week: Twilio-Sendgrid, Palantir, Uber, Lyft, and Tencent Music IPOs, Instacart, and Saudi Arabia.

In order, I think? First, we tackled the week’s biggest venture-themed M&A: Twilio buying SendGrid. Keep in mind that they are both recent IPOs; Twilio went out in 2016, and SendGrid in 2017.

The $2 billion-ish all-stock transaction is effectively Twilio using its rich market cap (rich in terms of its revenue and profit multiples) to snag an obvious (though intelligent) extension of API-powered communications toolset.

Next up we dug into the chance that Palantir is worth $41 billion. Spoiler: It isn’t. Then we chatted the two other recently-floated IPO valuations for Uber ($120 billion) and Lyft ($15 billion). They probably make more sense, depending a little on how you add and then divide.

All that and we also touched on the recent delay in the Tencent Music IPO, a profitable company.

Then we riffed through the Instacart round ($600 million more at a $7.6 billion valuation; wow), and re-touched on Silicon Valley’s currently least popular dinner party topic: how much Saudi money has recently gone to work powering tech startups.

A big thanks to you for not only sticking with Equity for so long, but also for making it quite literally as popular as it has ever been. It’s super fun to have the biggest crew with us every week that we’ve ever had.

You, yes you, are a delight.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

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Vector speeds toward orbital launch capability with $70M in new funding

The market for small satellites in low Earth orbit is expanding faster than the gas in a thruster nozzle, and Vector aims to be the go-to launch platform for companies looking to put a bird in the air on short notice. The company just raised a $70 million B round and aims to take its first payload into space early next year.

Smaller launch systems are already helping bring down the cost of going to orbit, but there’s still a huge amount of room to improve. Satellites and experiments are still waiting for years, or at least more than a few months, for their chance to get to LEO. Vector is hoping to be the company they come to when they want to launch on the scale of weeks.

Of course, that kind of quick turnaround isn’t easy. You have to build hundreds of rockets to be prepared for demand, but that’s exactly Vector’s plan. Naturally this requires a considerable amount of capital.

After doing a lot of groundwork with Defense Dept. and NASA grants, the company raised a $1M seed round back in 2016, and expanded with a $21M round the next year led by Sequoia. The numbers keep on growing with today’s $70M round, led this time by Kodem Growth Partners.

“Vector is entering an extremely important phase of our journey, transitioning from a focus on research and development to flight operations and profitability. This Series B financing is a critical element in Vector’s mission to improve access to space and become a dominant launch provider to the small satellite industry,” said CEO and co-founder Jim Cantrell in a press release.

The company has already done sub-orbital proving flights of its launch system, and the first orbital launch is scheduled for December. They’ll be taking off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska — date TBD. Once orbital launch capability is established, Vector will be getting a lot of calls, so some of the money will go towards sales and marketing personnel, which should roughly double its presence in Silicon Valley,

But the bulk of the new funds will be dedicated to the establishment of a new rocket manufacturing facility in Tucson. You don’t build hundreds of launch vehicles with some second-hand factory.

The company’s original roadmap had orbital launch late last year, but in this business it’s better to be a little late and get things right. That said the vision for the rocket itself hasn’t been adjusted substantially.

“The original design of the Vector-R launch vehicle has largely remained the same since the founding of Vector and the acquisition of Garvey Spacecraft Corporation in 2016 (where the initial design was developed over a 15yr process),” explained co-founder and chief sales and marketing officer Shaun Coleman.

Demand has been sustained for the 50-60kg payload capacities the company is looking to offer, Coleman noted; a heavy configuration that can lift up to 290kg is also underway. (For comparison, a SpaceX Falcon 9 can lift around 25,000kg of payload. These are very small rockets and that’s by design.)

We’ll know more about Vector’s first orbital launch as we approach it. In addition to Kodem, Morgan Stanley Alternative Investment Partners, Sequoia, Lightspeed, and Shasta Ventures all contributed to the round.

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TrackR is rebranding to Adero as it looks beyond small devices to track lost items

When TrackR raised $50 million from investors that included Amazon a year ago, the Santa Baraba startup made a big splash in the growing market for small connected dongles that you could attach to “dumb” objects like keys to keep tabs on their location. But times for the company have been challenging since then. It’s weathered layoffs; a succession of natural disasters; and its co-founders stepping away from exec roles as CEO and president. Those events took their toll: we discovered that TrackR quietly closed an additional, small amount of funding earlier this year — but on a valuation of $40 million, a 73 percent drop compared to less than a year before.

Now it looks like the startup is about to enter another new phase. TrackR is launching a new brand, Adero, and sources say it is widening its focus to other uses for its tracking technology, taking TrackR beyond the circular Bluetooth fobs that form the core of its service today.

TechCrunch first learned of the brand change from an anonymous tipster, who said he’d noticed a legal name change for the company on Carta, from TrackR to Adero, “to match their new focus on home solutions.” Another source said that TrackR had been talking to retailers to sell what sounds like a larger connected home solution, although the outcome of those discussions is not clear.

We have also noticed that TrackR has been discounting its existing stock, a sign that it could be trying to clear the decks for whatever is coming next. Contacted for this story, a spokesperson did not comment on whether it would continue to sell products like the TrackR Bravo and Pixel — only that it would continue to support them.

“TrackR will continue to support all products we’ve sold into the market,” he said. “Both the battery replacement program and the Crowd Locate network are both active.”

Christian Smith, who had been the company’s president but quietly left his executive role at the startup at the end of last year, had once described a bigger vision of targeting enterprises in an IoT play, although it’s also not clear if this is part of TrackR’s plan now, or if it ever will be.

Whatever the pivot will entail, it is happening at a critical time. The company quietly raised $10 million in July, at a $40 million valuation according to Pitchbook. It was a clear downround: TrackR was valued at $150 million when it raised $50 million a recently as August 2017. Investors were not disclosed in the most recent funding, but previous backers of the company, in addition to Amazon, include Foundry Group, NTT, and Revolution.

“As our valuation reflects, at the start of this year, we made a conscious decision with the support of our board to build a new future instead of chasing incremental growth,” a spokesperson said of the reduced valuation. “The future we’re building revolves around helping our users proactively manage the chaos of life. We’re excited to reveal the first chapter of our new story in a few weeks.”

TrackR is expected to make an official announcement of its plans towards the end of November, we understand. It declined to comment on the new brand or direction for this article.

But we found a trail of records connecting TrackR to Adero dating from the middle of this year — an indication that the startup has been working on this strategy for at least six months.

Starting in May 2018, Trackr registered three trademarks for Adero. One filed in May of this year describes Adero in fairly generic terms: “Telecommunications services, namely, electronic transmission of data, messages, graphics, images, audio, video and information among users relating to locating, managing, organizing, and tracking assets, devices, and objects.”

Another trademark application details “cloud based software for tracking, organizing, and managing assets, objects, and devices; providing an interactive website featuring non-downloadable software that allows for the tracking, organizing, and managing of assets, objects, and devices; providing temporary use of non-downloadable cloud-based software for sharing information about, organizing, and managing networked wireless devices; providing temporary use of online non-downloadable software that shares information and data between electronic devices within a community of users; providing an on-line network environment that features technology for sharing, organizing, and managing data between wireless devices.”

A third describes hardware to manage such a service.

Trackr also registered separate trademarks around the same time is for a brand called “Activefield,” which might be one of the components of the Adero solution. (Its descriptions match those of the Adero trademarks.)

In addition to that, a Twitter profile for Adero features a picture of Santa Barbara — the homebase of Trackr. And ownership of the Adero.com domain, meanwhile, was transferred in May 2018, although the owner is not listed publicly (not unusual with domain applications). (An older Adero that some might remember was a telecoms company that had raised nearly $97 million in the first dot-com wave but then — like so many other startups of the time — shut down.)

IoT or bust

Trackr’s shift speaks to some of the challenges that have hung over the market for IoT when it comes to consumer services.

There is a lot of exciting potential in having all of the physical things in your world able to “speak” and for you to be able to control them by way of data, but there are also hurdles.

To name just two, the market is full of competition, not just between lookalike dongles, but also between a wide range of products that are all getting connectivity built into them, removing the need for the dongle to begin with. This all makes for difficult margins.

Second, although we have seen a flood of products hit the market, it’s still early days when it comes to understanding just how strong demand is for these products, and what it is that consumers ultimately will want to invest in. “Issues around interoperability, security and privacy concerns, and the cost of devices will continue to be leading inhibitors to the market’s growth,” IDC analyst Adam Wright noted in a recent report.

As it happens, both TrackR and its closest competitor Tile have reportedly had disappointing sales in key periods like the holidays, and tellingly Tile has also seen a series of recent changes.

In September, the company appointed a new CEO, CJ Prober, as it took on a new strategic investment from Comcast that points to its own efforts to widen its business beyond its square trackers. It also moved into subscription services, with the launch of a new device with a battery that can be replaced by way of a subscription.

For its part, Tile last month said that it has sold more than 15 million of its square devices, accounting for some 95 percent of the market in the US (according to estimates from NPD), while TrackR’s most recent update of 5 million shipped dates from 2017. In the wider game of economies of scale that underpins so much of the hardware business, those figures may have been the writing on the wall for TrackR.

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SD Times Open-Source Project of the Week: Infer.NET

Microsoft has announced its machine learning framework Infer.NET is now open source. Infer.NET focuses specifically on running Bayesian inference in graphical models. According to the company, it can also be used for probabilistic programming.

“Open sourcing Infer.NET represents the culmination of a long and ambitious journey. Our team at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK embarked on developing the framework back in 2004. We’ve learned a lot along the way about making machine learning solutions that are scalable and interpretable. Infer.NET initially was envisioned as a research tool and we released it for academic use in 2008. As a result, there have been hundreds of papers published using the framework across a variety of fields, everything from information retrieval to healthcare,” Yordan Zaykov, principal research software engineering lead, wrote in a post.

Microsoft believes the framework can be used to solve machine learning problems like classification, recommendations, and clustering, as well as customized solutions and domain-specific problems. It has been applied to a variety of different domains such as information retrieval, bioinformatics, epidemiology, and vision.2

“Infer.NET enables a model-based approach to machine learning. This lets you incorporate domain knowledge into your model. The framework can then build a bespoke machine learning algorithm directly from that model. This means that instead of having to map your problem onto a pre-existing learning algorithm that you’ve been given, Infer.NET actually constructs a learning algorithm for you, based on the model you’ve provided,” Zaykov wrote.

Zaykov explained a huge advantage of the framework is interpretability. “If you have designed the model yourself and the learning algorithm follows that model, then you can understand why the system behaves in a particular way or makes certain predictions. As machine learning applications gradually enter our lives, understanding and explaining their behavior becomes increasingly more important,” Zaykov wrote.

The best way to use Infer.NET is when you have extensive knowledge about a specific domain you are trying to solve or when you are interpreting the behavior of a system that is important to you, according to Zaykov.

Going forward, Infer.NET will become apart of Microsoft’s machine learning framework for .NET developers ML.NET. A repository under .NET Foundation is already being set up in order to provide integration with ML.NET.

The post SD Times Open-Source Project of the Week: Infer.NET appeared first on SD Times.

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The 7 great features that will hopefully return to the MacBook Pro

I miss the old MacBook Pro. Remember when the MacBook Pro had a good keyboard? Or an SD Card slot? Or an escape key? I miss the time when the MacBook Pro was 2mm thicker than the current version but had a full-size USB port.

Remember the wonder of MagSafe? Or the glory that was using a MacBook Pro outside because of the matte screen?

Remember when the power adapter for Apple’s laptops had little fold-out tabs to hold the cord? There was also a time that a random brush of the keyboard wouldn’t trigger Siri.

There was a time when Apple made great laptops and there is now.

Yesterday Apple announced an upcoming event where the company will likely release new laptops and iPads. These are some of the features TechCrunch writers hope return to Apple’s notebook computers.

Escape Key

The Touch Bar is clever. I like it most of the time. But I like the escape key more. Right now, on Macs equipped with the TouchBar, the escape key is a temporary button on the TouchBar. It’s positioned off-center, too, which forces users to relearn its location.

It’s silly. The escape key has been with PCs for generations and is critical across applications and use cases. Everyone from causal gamers to coders use the escape key on a regular basis.

Keep the TouchBar, but make it a bit smaller and position it between an escape key and a real power button. Just give me my escape key back. And make Siri optional. I’ve had a TouchBar-equipped MacBook Pro for nearly two years and have yet to find a reason to use Siri.

USB Ports

I’m over living the dongle life. From everything from charging a phone to connecting a camera, standard USB ports need to return to the MacBook Pro. Since we’re dreaming here, I would love to have one per side. The PC industry has been slow to jump on USB-C. Even Apple hasn’t gone all-in and that’s the issue here.

Think about it: If a person buys a MacBook Pro and iPhone, that person cannot connect their iPhone to their new MacBook Pro without buying an adapter or cable. Same goes for an iPad. If a person wants to buy a new iPad and new MacBook Pro, the two products cannot connect out of the box.

Apple launched the USB-C equipped MacBook Pro in 2016. It’s 2018. For a company that understands ecosystems, Apple has done a poor job ensuring all of its products are compatible out of the box. The first USB-C Apple Watch cable was released today.

SD Card Slot

The MacBook Pro is billed as a laptop for the mobile professional yet it doesn’t allow some mobile professionals to connect their gear without adapters.

The SD Card is the overwhelming standard of photographers and videographers — a key audience for the MacBook Pro — and yet these folks now have to use adapters to connect their gear. Until the latest MacBook Pro redesign, there was a built-in SD Card reader, and Apple should (but won’t) build one into the next version.

External battery level indicator

A few generations ago, the MacBook and MacBook Pro had tiny button on the side that, when pressed, illuminated little lights to give the user an approximation of the remaining battery life. It was lovely.

You know the drill: You’re running out the door and need to know if you should bring your large power adapter. You don’t need to know exactly how much time until your laptop dies. You need an idea. And that’s what these lights provided. With just a press of a button, the user would know if the laptop would last 20 minutes or 2 hours.

Clever Power Adapter

For generations, Apple laptop chargers had little tabs that folded out and gave the owner a place to wrap the cable. It’s a simple and effective design. Steve Jobs is even listed on the 2001 patent. Those tabs disappeared when Apple went USB-C in 2016.

The latest charger is the same shape as the previous version but lacks the tabs, forcing owners to store the USB-C cable apart from the charging block. It’s a little thing but little things was what made Apple products delightful.

MagSafe

The elimination of MagSafe is nearly too painful to talk about. It was magical. Now it’s dead.

Here’s how it worked: The power cable was magnetic. Instead of sticking into the laptop, it connected to the side of it. If someone tripped over the cable, the cable would harmlessly disconnect from the laptop.

When Apple first launched MagSafe, the company loudly proclaimed they did so because customers kept breaking the connectors that plugged into the laptop. You know, like what’s in the current MacBook.

A good keyboard

I could forego all of the above if Apple could fix the keyboard in the latest MacBook Pro. It’s terrible.

Our Natasha Lomas said it best in her excellent piece called “An ode to Apple’s awful MacBook keyboard,”

The redesigned mechanism has resulted in keys that not only feel different when pressed vs the prior MacBook keyboard — which was more spongy for sure but that meant keys were at reduced risk of generating accidental strikes vs their barely there trigger-sensitive replacements (which feel like they have a 40% smaller margin for keystrike error) — but have also turned out to be fail prone, as particles of dust can find their way in between the keys, as dust is wont to do, and mess with the smooth functioning of key presses — requiring an official Apple repair.

Yes, just a bit of dust! Move over ‘the princess and the pea’: Apple and the dust mote is here! ‘Just use it in a vacuum’ shouldn’t be an acceptable usability requirement for a very expensive laptop.

Seriously. The keyboard is the worst part of the latest generation of the MacBook.

Alternatives

For the first time in 15 years I’m considering switching back to a Windows laptop. Microsoft’s Surface Book is not without flaws, but it’s a solid machine in my limited experience. I would be willing to try the less-powerful Surface Laptop 2, too. They’re just missing one thing: iMessage.

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Funderbeam CEO to talk about disrupting startup funding at Disrupt Berlin

Startup funding hasn’t changed much in the past decade. Funderbeam is an interesting company trying to turn everything upside down using a marketplace approach, a modern syndication system and a blockchain-based platform. I’m excited to announce that Funderbeam founder and CEO Kaidi Ruusalepp will come to TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

The first boom of venture capital of the 1980s changed everything in the tech industry. Countless of tech startups managed to get funding, grow and make money down the road. Without venture capital firms, some of the biggest tech firms out there just wouldn’t be around.

Arguably, convertible notes and accelerators turned startups into a mainstream phenomenon. It became much easier to get seed funding and some sort of mentorship.

But it hasn’t changed much since then. Funderbeam has some ambitious goals as the company wants to change everything by adding more transparency and liquidity into private funding.

Funderbeam combines multiple products into one. As a startup, you can use Funderbeam to raise your next funding round. Funderbeam acts as a marketplace so that angel investors can invest in your startup. As a business angel, you can invest in a syndicate.

The startup is also building a secondary market so that early investors in a company can sell shares to newer investors. And Funderbeam also compiles all its data on startups to create a database of financial information on startups.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on November 29-30.

In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the highly coveted Battlefield cup.


Kaidi Ruusalepp

Founder & CEO, Funderbeam

Founder and CEO of Funderbeam, the global funding and trading platform of private companies built on blockchain. Funderbeam combines three stages of investor journey into one: startup analytics, investing, and trading on the secondary market. Powered by blockchain technology, the marketplace delivers capital to growth companies and on-demand liquidity to investors worldwide.

Member of Startup Europe Advisory Board at European Commission. Kaidi is a former CEO of Nasdaq Tallinn Stock Exchange and of the Central Securities Depository. Co-Founder of Estonian Service Industry Association. The first IT lawyer in Estonia, she co-author of the Estonian Digital Signatures Act of 2000 — landmark legislation that enables secure digital identities and, in turn, the country’s booming electronic economy.

Kaidi was named as an Entrepreneur of a Year in 2018 by the Playmakers Technology Award and as a Person of a Year in 2016 by the Estonian IT and Telecommunication Association. Co-author of #Foundership Playbook and mentor of various girls and women in tech initiatives.

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Jane.VC, a new fund for female entrepreneurs, wants founders to cold email them

Want to pitch a venture capitalist? You’ll need a “warm introduction” first. At least that’s what most in the business will advise.

Find a person, typically a man, who made the VC you’re interested in pitching a whole bunch of money at some point and have them introduce you. Why? Because VCs love people who’ve made them money; naturally, they’ll be willing to hear you out if you’ve got at least one money maker on your side.

There’s a big problem with that cycle. Not all entrepreneurs are friendly with millionaires and not all entrepreneurs, especially those based outside Silicon Valley or from underrepresented backgrounds, have anyone in their network to provide them that coveted intro.

Jane.VC, a new venture fund based out of Cleveland and London wants entrepreneurs to cold email them. Send them your pitch, no wealthy or successful intermediary necessary. The fund, which has so far raised $2 million to invest between $25,000 and $150,000 in early-stage female-founded companies across industries, is scrapping the opaque, inaccessible model of VC that’s been less than favorable toward women.

“We like to say that Jane.VC is venture for every woman,” the firm’s co-founder Jennifer Neundorfer told TechCrunch.

Neundorfer, who previously founded and led an accelerator for Midwest startups called Flashstarts after stints at 21st Century Fox and YouTube, partnered with her former Stanford business school classmate Maren Bannon, the former chief executive officer and co-founder of LittleLane. So far, they’ve backed insurtech company Proformex and Hatch Apps, an enterprise software startup that makes it easier for companies to create and distribute mobile and web apps.

“We are going to shoot them straight”

Jane.VC, like many members of the next generation of venture capital funds, is bucking the idea that the best founders can only be found in Silicon Valley. Instead, the firm is going global and operating under the philosophy that a system of radical transparency and honesty will pay off.

“Let’s be efficient with an entrepreneur’s time and say no if it’s not a hit,” Neundorfer said. “I’ve been on the opposite end of that coaching. So many entrepreneurs think a VC is interested and they aren’t. An entrepreneur’s time is so valuable and we want to protect that. We are going to shoot them straight.”

Though Jane.VC plans to invest across the globe, the firm isn’t turning its back on Bay Area founders. Neundorfer and Bannon will leverage their Silicon Valley network and work with an investment committee of nine women based throughout the U.S. to source deals. 

“We are women that have raised money and have been through the ups and downs of raising money in what is a very male-dominated world,” Neundorfer added. “We believe that investing in women is not only the right thing to do but that you can make a lot of money doing it.”

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E-moto startup Alta Motors reportedly powers down

Brisbane, California based e-motorcycle startup Alta Motors has ceased operations, TechCrunch has confirmed. 

Earlier today Asphalt and Rubber — and several subsequent outlets — reported the company stopped operating this morning, fired its staff, and may be looking for a buyer. Alta has yet to comment on the situation.

“As of this morning I no longer represent Alta Motors so I’m not in a position to speak on it,” a former Alta Motors spokesperson told TechCrunch on background when asked about the shutdown. “I forwarded your request for more info to the board, and they’ll have to comment,” said the former comms rep. Alta’s head office has not respond to requests for comment.

The EV company specializes in producing dual-sport and high performance electric powered off-road motorcycles. The startup had raised $45 million and counts Tesla co-founders Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard among its investors.

Alta made news in March when it entered a co-development partnership with Harley Davidson. This aligned with Harley’s EV push, including the debut of a production e-moto by 2019, an expanded electric line-up to follow, and the opening of a Silicon Valley research facility.

Harley Davidson wouldn’t give a solid “no” to reports its partnership with Alta had concluded but their statement TechCrunch seems a pretty strong indication they’re business with the startup is in the past.

“Our collaborative efforts with Alta Motors were productive and we were pleased with the development work we partnered on,” Harley Davidson Communications Director Patricia Sweeney told TechCrunch.  

TechCrunch visited Alta’s facilities, tested its motorcycles, and interviewed co-founder Marc Fenigstein earlier this year. The startup has 70 dealerships nationwide  and our reporting flagged it is a potential acquisition target in a motorcycle industry that could be shifting electric.

On the competition level, Alta has been attempting compete with gas bikes by seeking entrance in American Motorcycle Association sanctioned motocross events. In September, the company became the first e-moto to earn a podium spot in AMA competition in another race class, endurocross.

With Harley Davidson’s EV commitment potentially pushing the motorcycle industry to voltage, Alta could be a discounted acquisition and R&D buy for Indian Motorcycle or  other major gas companies — Honda, Yamaha, BMW — who have been slow to develop production e-motos.

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The space pen became the space pen 50 years ago

Everyone knows about the space pen. NASA spent millions on R&D to create the ultimate pen that would work in zero gravity and the result was this incredible machine. Well, no. In fact it was made by a pen manufacturer in 1966 — but it wasn’t until October of 1968 that it went into orbit and fulfilled its space pen destiny.

The pen was created by pen maker (naturally) Paul Fisher, who used $1 million of his own money to create the AG-7 anti-gravity pen. As you may or may not know, the innovation was a pressurized ink cartridge and gel ink that would deploy reliably regardless of orientation, temperature or indeed the presence of gravity.

He sent it to NASA, which was of course the only organization reliably worried about making things work in microgravity, and they loved it. In fact, the Russians started using it shortly afterwards, as well.

Walt Cunningham, Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele took the pens aboard with them for the Apollo 7 mission, which launched on October 11, 1968, and they served them well over the next 11 days in orbit.

A 50th anniversary edition of the pen is now available to people who have a lot of money and love gold stuff. It’s $500, a limited edition of 500, and made of “gold titanium nitride plated brass,” and it comes with a case and commemorative plaque with a quote from Cunningham:

“Fifty years ago, I flew with the first flown Space Pen on Apollo 7. I relied on it then, and it’s still the only pen I rely on here on Earth.”

Okay, that’s pretty cool. Presumably astronauts get a lifetime supply of these things, though.

Here’s to the Fisher space pen, an example of American ingenuity and simple, reliable good design that’s persisted in use and pop culture for half a century.

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The space pen became the space pen 50 years ago

Everyone knows about the space pen. NASA spent millions on R&D to create the ultimate pen that would work in zero gravity and the result was this incredible machine. Well, no. In fact it was made by a pen manufacturer in 1966 — but it wasn’t until October of 1968 that it went into orbit and fulfilled its space pen destiny.

The pen was created by pen maker (naturally) Paul Fisher, who used $1 million of his own money to create the AG-7 anti-gravity pen. As you may or may not know, the innovation was a pressurized ink cartridge and gel ink that would deploy reliably regardless of orientation, temperature or indeed the presence of gravity.

He sent it to NASA, which was of course the only organization reliably worried about making things work in microgravity, and they loved it. In fact, the Russians started using it shortly afterwards, as well.

Walt Cunningham, Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele took the pens aboard with them for the Apollo 7 mission, which launched on October 11, 1968, and they served them well over the next 11 days in orbit.

A 50th anniversary edition of the pen is now available to people who have a lot of money and love gold stuff. It’s $500, a limited edition of 500, and made of “gold titanium nitride plated brass,” and it comes with a case and commemorative plaque with a quote from Cunningham:

“Fifty years ago, I flew with the first flown Space Pen on Apollo 7. I relied on it then, and it’s still the only pen I rely on here on Earth.”

Okay, that’s pretty cool. Presumably astronauts get a lifetime supply of these things, though.

Here’s to the Fisher space pen, an example of American ingenuity and simple, reliable good design that’s persisted in use and pop culture for half a century.

via Click on the link for the full article