Originally created 02/08/98

Cosmic pitch



NEW YORK -- The pen was mightier than the word when late-night television crossed the final shopping frontier early Saturday.

Two Russian cosmonauts aboard the Mir space station, appearing live on the QVC shopping channel, set out to hawk the American-made $32.75 Fisher Space Pen, used on NASA space flights since 1967 because it can write in the absence of gravity.

As they orbited 200 miles above the Earth, a technical problem kept Commander Anatoly Solovyov and flight engineer Pavel Vinogradov from being heard discussing the pen. So one of them simply used it to write "QVC" on a pad.

"They love this pen in space," an interpreter for the cosmonauts said during the hourlong program that started at 1 a.m. EST.

But the featured attraction at the sale, anchored from the Catch a Rising Star nightclub in Manhattan, was the $25,000 Sokol KV-2 spacesuit.

Under the club's red, white and blue lights, cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin provided a ground-based demonstration of the 22-pound suit for viewers.

He described the four blue air valves, the canvas boots and other features. The left arm bore a red Russian flag on the shoulder and a pressure gauge at the wrist.

The suits, Lazutkin insisted, are "in very good condition."

"This suit can be used even in water," said QVC regular Ron Maestri.

At least six callers made serious inquiries about the suits, said QVC spokeswoman Ellen Rubin. Their credit will be checked before any sales are final, she said.

The show also sold 11 tiny pieces of Mars rock -- bits of meteorites authenticated by chemical tests as being from the red planet -- for prices ranging from $90 to $2,500.

"There are only 14 pounds of Mars in private hands," said Darryl Pitt, the seller of the meteorites.

The program attracted 530 buyers, Rubin said later Saturday. The financially shaky Russian space program gets an undisclosed donation from the proceeds.

Russian space chief Yuri Koptev has said previously that Mir would be used regularly as an advertising prop.

In July, a cosmonaut on Mir swallowed a floating blob of milk for an Israeli dairy commercial.

"It doesn't make any difference for us what to advertise -- cars or foodstuff. The only condition is that advertising doesn't contradict legal and ethical norms," Koptev said.