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Omega Speedmaster: The First 15 Years

Omega Speedmaster: The First 15 Years


photo credit: simple/shift

The references for this story are sufficiently obscure that this author hesitates to put it down as reality. What we do know is NASA kept in touch with Omega’s US shipper in New York and requisitioned twelve watches “for testing and evaluation purposes” in late September 1964. Presumably they did this for four different brands as well.

Two brands were eliminated in the first round of testing. Two more were eliminated in the second round. Testing was completed by March 1, 1965. Just the Speedmaster had passed all tests set forward by NASA technicians. Astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom and John Young wore Speedmasters on the first Gemini manned mission three weeks after the fact. Barely two months from that point forward, Ed White turned into the first American to stroll in space, and he did it with a Speedmaster on his wrist.

The incongruity here is that Omega clearly didn’t learn of the selection of the Speedmaster as NASA’s space watch until April 1966. References vary on precisely when the word “Professional” was added to the dial. Some say 1965. Others guarantee it appeared in October of 1966. The later date seems to be corroborated by the April 1966 date of disclosure of the Speedmaster’s status at NASA.

The Speedmaster Professional and Apollo

Beyond Ed White’s history-production space stroll in 1965, two stories pose a potential threat over all the rest while discussing the Speedmaster’s adventures in space. Whose watch was first on the moon, Neil Armstrong’s or Buzz Aldrin’s? Also, the watch’s critical job in getting the Apollo 13 astronauts safely home after an explosion on-board crippled their spacecraft.

Late at night of July 20, 1969, shortly in the wake of touching down on the lunar surface, Neil Armstrong noticed the clock in the lunar module’s lodge had stopped working. He settled on the decision to leave his Speedmaster in the LM when he and Aldrin descended to the lunar surface, to guard it against possible harm should a backup for the vehicle clock be needed. Thus, Aldrin’s watch was the first watch on the Moon, where it performed flawlessly.

Exactly what befell Aldrin’s watch after the Apollo 11 mission is another point where stories contrast. One states that Aldrin was asked to send the watch to the Simthsonian’s Air & Space Museum, and the watch disappeared during the subsequent shipment. Others report that Aldrin’s residence was burglarized and the watch was taken in the burglary. What is clear is that the watch disappeared and has never surfaced.

And of course, the 1970 story of Apollo 13 is unbelievable, retold in the eponymous 1995 film which starred Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon. At the point when the command spacecraft was severely damaged by a detonating oxygen tank, the attached lunar module was repurposed as a living quarters and fundamental motor. The jury-rigged setup was used to swing around the moon and force the spacecraft back to earth. Due to the severe need to conserve electrical force, all systems had been turned off. Jack Swigert used his Speedmaster to precisely time two critical mid-course amendment burns of the Lunar Module’s engine.

The Speedmaster’s critical job in saving the group of Apollo 13 earned Omega NASA’s Snoopy Award, refering to “dedication, professionalism, and outstanding contributions in support of the first United States Manned Lunar Landing Project.”

An Interesting Side Note The famed CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite is frequently thought of as the unofficial voice of the space program. Unquestionably he was an unabashed fan. A couple of years back, I ran over an old issue of Life Magazine from March 1971. Cronkite’s photograph was on the cover. The extraordinary man was unwinding, smiling and getting a charge out of a day of sailing off the New England coast on board his beloved yacht. Also, on his wrist in the photograph? An Omega Speedmaster Professional. The same watch worn by the astronauts he admired so much.

What’s Next?

While the Speedmaster Professional has remained almost constant since the mid-1960s, the Speedmaster line has developed and evolved. We’ll investigate that development and evolution over the coming weeks.

Thanks to William Bright and  Analog/Shift  for extra photography