Houston we’ve had a problem
The Omega Speedmasters illustrious history began in 1957 when it was launched as a sports and racing chronograph at a time when Omega were the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games. Not content with it’s association with global sporting excellence it began its upward trajectory towards conquering the final frontier. We are going to discover why this pioneer is such a unique addition to every man’s watch collection.
1) To boldly go where no watch has gone before
It all began with a small enhancement to the movement found in the Omega Speedmaster in 1946 which would begin the watches journey into outer space.
The Calibre 321 movement was originally produced in 1942 as a joint project between Omega and one of its subsidiaries at the time named Lemania.
The movement went on to be known as one of the finest lateral clutch, column wheel controlled chronographs in the world which is why the likes of Patek Philippe and Breguet used it as a base movement in a range of their chronographs.
It was however the addition in 1942 of protection from magnetic fields that allowed it to make a giant leap for all watch kind.
Its first foray into space began when astronaut Wally Schirra wore his own Speedmaster ref. CK 2998 during his solo-flight Mercury space programme on the 3rd October in 1962.
This brought it to the attention of NASA as they were looking for a watch to be used in the Gemini (two-man) and Apollo (three-man) mission which were to be the first time astronauts were going to move about outside in space and required a watch that could withstand the extreme conditions.
After rigorous testing the Speedmaster was the only watch to pass with flying colours making its way on to the wrist of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin who would become the first men to walk on the moon.
It wasn’t until Aldrin joined Armstrong 19 minutes after the first step that the Speedmaster took its place in history as Neil had left his in the lunar module as backup to the electronic timing system which wasn’t functioning correctly.
Incredibly Omega didn’t even know that they had made history until they seen a photograph of Ed White during a spacewalk in 1965.
They then followed up the momentous moon walk with the addition of ‘First Watch Worn on the Moon’ to the case back cementing their position as the first watch that we know of to be ticking out in the universe.
2) It could save your life one day (if you find yourself attached to a rocket)
The infamous Apollo 13 mission in 1970 almost ended in disaster when an electrical failure onboard the ship caused a near fatal explosion.
This resulted in the crew having to evacuate in the Aquarius Lunar Module to conserve power and navigate a daring escape.
In order to calculate the critical 14 seconds of engine boost required to angle the shuttle for re-entry into the the earth’s atmosphere, pilot Jack Swigert used his Speedmaster to ensure the precise amount of boost was used.
There is however some debate on whether Swigert had secretly kept his own personal Rolex GMT Master on, which he was photographed wearing before suiting up, during the mission.
Swigert himself has never denied the official version of the Speedmaster being used so therefore there is no reason to think otherwise.
In recognition for ‘dedication, professionalism, and outstanding contributions in support of the first United States Manned Lunar Landing Project’ the Apollo 13 astronauts awarded Omega the Snoopy Award.
3) It survived a beating by NASA
In 1962 NASA bought a range of chronographs from all of the leading brands such as Rolex, Breitling, Longines and Omega with the goal of finding the watch that astronauts would wear in space.
After the initial preliminary screening only 3 out of the 6 watches were considered ready for the real tests to begin. Thus began an onslaught of testing like nothing seen before in the world of horology.
Some of the smartest minds in the world brought the wrath of the elements on the 3 chronographs with 11 different tests consisting of;
- Shock: 6 shocks in 6 different directions of 40 G, each lasting for 11 milliseconds.
- Acceleration: From 1 G to 7.25 G within 333 seconds, along an axis parallel to the longitudinal spacecraft axis.
- High Pressure: 1.6 atm for a minimum period of one hour
- Decompression: 90 minutes in a vacuum of 10-6 atm at a temperature of 160 degrees fahrenheit (71 degrees celsius) and 30 minutes at 200 degrees fahrenheit (93 degrees celsius)
- Oxygen Atmosphere: 48 hours in an atmosphere of 100% oxygen at a pressure of 0.35 atm
- Acoustic noise: 130 db over a frequency range of 40 to 10,000 Hz, duration 30 minutes
- Relative humidity: 240 hours at temperatures varying between 68 and 160 degreesfahrenheit (20 and 71 degrees celsius) in a relative humidity of at least 95%
- Temperature pressure: 15 cycles of heating to 71 degrees celsius from 45 minutes, followed by cooling to -18 for 45 minutes at 10-6 atm.
- Vibration: Three cycles of 30 minutes, vibration varying from 5 to 2000 Hz
- High Temperatures: 48 Hours at a temperature of 160 degrees fahrenheit (71 degrees celsius) followed by 30 minutes at 200 degrees fahrenheit (93 degrees celsius)
- Low Temperatures: 4 hours at a temperature of -18 degrees celsius