WATCHES
February 27, 2017

A Brief History of Space and Time

Words by Philbert Dy

A brief look at the Speedmaster’s relationship with the stars

Omega 5

Qualified for all manned space missions by NASA in 1965, the Speedmaster was used from Gemini to Apollo.

Omega is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its iconic Speedmaster line of chronographs. Introduced in 1957, the watch came into existence at a time when two of the world’s superpowers were locked in a race to get men up into space. And though the watch wasn’t initially designed for such a lofty purpose, the durability and realibility of the chronograph would lead it to become the watch of choice for the rigors of space travel. Here are a few highlights of the history of this watch and its relationship to the stars.

 

1957 – The First Speedmaster

Developed as a sport and racing choronograph, built on the legacy of Omega’s position as the official timekeeper of the Olympic games. Introduces some of the most iconic elements of the series, like its 12-hour, triple-register layout and its high-contrast markers.

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NASA engineer James Ragan prepares the Speedmaster for a run of intense endurance tests. Not only did it survive, it performed flawlessly.

 

1962 – Wally Schirra and the Mercury Atlas-8

Well before NASA tested chronographs for use in space, astronaut Wally Schirra wore his Speedmaster on the six-orbit, nine-hour Mercury Atlas-8 mission on October 3, 1962. Schirra was just the ninth human in all of history to take a rocket up into space.

 

1965 – NASA Selects the Speedmaster

After three years of testing that placed watches in extreme conditions of temperature, pressure, noise and vibration, among other things, America’s space agency determines that the Speedmaster, among current watches available in the market back then, was the best possible choice for meeting the demands of manned spaceflight.

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NASA engineer James Ragan lifts the Speedmaster out of a centrifuge where it survived a punishing G-force test. Just one of many challenges it endured in its lifetime.

On March 23 of that year, Gus Grissom and John Young wore first officially qualified Speedmasters aboard Gemini 3. Later in June, during the Gemini 4 mission, the first American spacewalk was carried out by astronaut Ed White with a Speedmaster strapped to the outside of his space suit.

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On June 3, 1965, Edward White wore a Speedmaster when we became the first American to walk in space.

1969 – First Watch on the Moon

Buzz Aldrin wears a Speedmaster strapped to the outside of his spacesuit when he makes his historic walk on the surface of the satellite. On the succeeding Apollo 12 mission, Alan Bean would also wear the chronograph on his moon walk. The Speedmaster Professional, from then on, would also be referred to by people as the “Moon watch.”

 

1970 – The Speedmaster Saves Apollo 13

Jack Swigert’s Speedmaster became a crucial factor in saving the crew of the ill-fated space mission. The chronograph was used to accurately time the 14-second Mid-Course Correction 5 burn that would ultimately get the crew home safely. The Apollo 13 astronauts would go on to show their appreciation to Omega by giving them the Silver Snoopy Award, a prize given directly by the astronauts to contractors and employees for their outstanding achievements related to human flight safety or mission success.

The Speedmaster would go on to be part of many more missions. NASA would actually commission the watchmaker for new designs for chronographs that could take on even more extreme conditions. In its 60 years, the watch became a real touch point for an era when the entire world seemed to look to the stars, men, women and children all looking into the void of space wondering how far humans can really go. Now, living in a time when the lights of the city have drowned out the sky, and the world no longer seems to be as interested in sending men and women up to the harsh environment of space, there is more value in the artifacts of that era. The Speedmaster persists, and so do our aspirations.

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