Retro 51 pen embodies NASA's first and fallen space shuttle Columbia

Twenty years after it was tragically lost as it reentered the atmosphere, the space shuttle Columbia is the inspiration for a collectible pen that can help launch a new generation of scientists, engineers and explorers.

Retro 51 on Tuesday (Feb. 28) debuted its Columbia Space Shuttle Tornado (opens in new tab), the latest rollerball in the company’s line of collectible writing instruments. The limited edition pen continues a collaboration with the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit organization that awards college students for excelling in their science and technology undergraduate studies.

“In recognition of the scientific achievements by Columbia’s many astronauts and flight crews, Retro 51 launches the second design in the Space Shuttle Series,” the company described on its website. “For every Columbia Space Shuttle pen purchased (opens in new tab), a donation will be made to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation to help inspire the next generation of heroes and explorers.”

Limited to 1,958 pieces as a nod to the year that NASA was founded, each $60 pen recreates the look of the U.S. space agency’s first winged orbiter to enter orbit in April 1981. A wrap-around design gives the Tornado the appearance the pen is the spacecraft itself, with its upper body insulation blankets and underbelly thermal tiles detailed with black nickel accents.

Each pen is engraved with a serial number, features the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s logo on the top of its push button and comes packaged in a matching commemorative tube.

Like the real Columbia, which was preceded in flight by an atmospheric test vehicle, the new Tornado is the second release in Retro 51’s Space Shuttle Series after the Enterprise Tornado rolled out (opens in new tab) in September 2021. A limited number of those original pens are still available from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, packaged with a photo signed by Approach and Landing Test commander Fred Haise.

Related stories:

— NASA’s space shuttle program in pictures: A tribute

— Columbia disaster: What happened and what NASA learned

— Space shuttle: The first reusable spacecraft

The Columbia Space Shuttle Tornado is the latest space-themed pen to come from Retro 51. Past releases have included pens that resemble (opens in new tab) the Mercury-Redstone, Gemini-Titan and Apollo-Saturn V rockets, a Hubble Space Telescope pen, a special limited edition pen (opens in new tab) for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and a Space Shuttle Discovery Tornado in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

In December 2021, Pen Boutique partnered with Retro 51 to issue a standalone Tornado and a three-piece set with a fountain pen and mechanical pencil in celebration of the first U.S. and Russian joint space mission, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in July 1975. The matching pens’ design married the the look of the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft with the metal finish of the Apollo command module.

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