No watch has ever played such a pivotal role in human achievement as the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch.
Omega introduced the Speedmaster in 1957. A few imagined it would be the watch that would accompany some of the most daring moments in human history. In fact, no timepiece has played such a pivotal role in some of humankind’s greatest achievements. The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch has been a part of all six NASA manned lunar missions since 1969. That’s a pretty impressive representation of Omega’s pioneering spirit.
The Speedmaster Moonwatch as the first chronograph to include a tachymeter scale on the bezel. This was a revolutionary idea that has set the benchmark for all chronographs to this day. Omega conceived the model to measure elapsed times and speeds in a high-precision manner. There was also an emphasis on durability in different situations in a model that was easy to read and use.
The Space Race
During this time, the USA and the USSR were in the midst of a technological and patriotic showdown. At the height of the cold war, the two opposing supernations were neck and neck to see who could advance further into the realm of manned space exploration. In his address to Congress on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy made clear America’s ambitions to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade. At the time, the moon seemed like an unthinkable target, but one that would surely go a long way in conquering space.
The Omega Speedmaster made its unofficial voyage into space in 1962 during NASA’s Project Gemini, one of America’s first manned space missions. Astronaut Walter Schirra wore his personal CK 2998 Speedmaster onboard the Stigma 7 Mercury spacecraft that orbited earth six times, a flight that lasted 9 hours and 15 minutes.
Shortly after, there was an official petition signed by the astronauts for wristwatches as part of their equipment. The space explorers needed backup timing devices that were durable enough to handle the elements of the universe and equipped with a chronograph that was precise and accurate. With this in mind, NASA set into motion the search for the perfect timepiece.
Tested to Withstand the Universe
In addition to Omega, NASA invited many reputable watchmakers including Wittnauer, Rolex and Longines to the testing. Led by aerospace engineer and hardware expert James H. Ragan, the models in question were first exposed to temperatures that ranged from 0ºF (-18ºC) to 200ºF (93ºC). Also violent shocks, extreme pressure variations, bone-jarring vibrations and tested under zero gravity. The only watch to come out on the other side was the Omega Speedmaster, which was declared “flight qualified by NASA for all manned space missions” on March 1, 1965.
Just three weeks later, the Speedmaster made its first official trip into space. It was on the wrists of Virgil Grissom and John Young during the Gemini 3 mission. On June 3 of the same year, the Speedmaster made another appearance. This time on the wrist of Edward White while he performed America’s first spacewalk during the Gemini 4 mission.
Unlike almost all the equipment NASA provided their astronauts, the Speedmaster was not designed specifically for use in harsh environments of outer space. In fact, the timepieces remained largely unchanged to those that were available in retail stores across the world. The only exception was that a velcro strap replaced the steel bracelet in order to fit over the padded suits of the astronauts.
The Speedmaster was again chosen for the daring Apollo 11 mission. On July 16, 1969, the Apollo blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Four days later, commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Eagle lunar module on the surface of the moon in the Sea of Tranquility. Nearly 600 million viewers back on earth were glued to their television sets. Armstrong descended the ladder utter the immortal words: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Aldrin touched the surface shortly after wearing no other than his trusty Speedmaster on the outside of his suit. From that day forward, the Speedmaster has been dubbed the “moonwatch” for its role in one of the greatest scientific achievements in human history.
The Omega Speedmaster was more than simply present during these space missions. The electronic timekeeping mechanisms on board were damaged after the explosion of an oxygen tank. “Houston, we’ve had a problem” commander James Lovell muttered. It was initially supposed to be a moon landing. The Apollo 13 was forced to abandon their mission due to a dangerously low supply of power and fuel following the blast.
It was one of the most heightened situations of the 20th century. Lovell was forced to resort to his mechanical self-winding Speedmaster chronograph. He used it to time the critical firing of the re-entry rockets. This allowed for the safe return of his crew to planet Earth. In recognition of its crucial role, Omega received the Silver Snoopy award in 1970. It’s the highest honor awarded by NASA astronauts for achievements made in the realm of human flight safety and mission success.
The Legend Lives On
In 1975, the Speedmaster found itself again as the center of another momentous geopolitical moment in world history. During the Apollo-Soyuz mission, when the Apollo rocket docked with the Soviet Union’s Soyuz in space for a handshake. American astronauts were delighted to see that Soviet astronauts were also wearing the Omega Speedmaster Chronographs.
The Omega Speedmaster was the first modern-day chronograph ever built. But it’s played a vital role in space exploration for nearly its entire existence. It’s been reincarnated in the form of many special editions watches. It’s the nearly identical standard Professional that remains the most iconic today.