Blog / The Watch on a Mission: Story of OMEGA and Apollo 13

The Watch on a Mission: Story of OMEGA and Apollo 13

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The Omega Speedmaster is unquestionably one of the most famous watches ever made. The legendary timepiece popularly nicknamed the ‘Moonwatch’ reached stardom for participating in all six lunar missions.

 

Commemorative watch of the 45th Anniversary of Apollo 13

 

The Omega Speedmaster is unquestionably one of the most famous watches ever made. The legendary timepiece popularly nicknamed the ‘Moonwatch’ reached stardom for participating in all six lunar missions. Furthermore, its reliability and durability was awarded the Silver Snoopy Award — the most prestigious award given by NASA to its employees and partners, following Omega’s crucial role in saving the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in 1970.

The Silver Snoopy Award was first introduced in 1968, arising from NASA employees’ frequent jokes and references to the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schultz. Ever since, there has been a strong connection between Snoopy and the US space programme.

Launched at the rather unfortunate 13:13, on the 11th of April 1970, the mission was going according to plan for 56 hours since take-off. Its fate suddenly took a turn for the worse when oxygen tank Nr. 2 exploded, causing a series of other complications. This included a leak in the coinciding oxygen tank Nr. 1, and a subsequent loss in supply of electricity, light and water. In addition, flashing lights signalled the loss of two of three fuel cells, placing the crew at risk of disaster 200,000 miles from Earth. 

At 9:08 p.m. on April 13th, the Apollo Mission Control Centre saw a warning light, followed by the famous message: ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem here.’

After developing and analysing emergency strategies in order to ensure the astronauts return home safely, ground control instructed the crew to use the modest supplies in the lunar module to survive and bring the craft back to Earth.

With only 15 minutes of power left in the Command Module, the crew made their way into the Lunar Module lifeboat. The LM was built for only a 45-hour lifetime, yet in time of emergency it needed to be extended to 90. Although the oxygen backup in the module would suffice, the crew was cramped in the small space, suffering from extremely low temperatures, dehydration, and exhaustion. They knew this was their only chance of making it home safe. The only question was how.

This is where their Speedmasters played a pivotal role. As the LM navigation system was designed for lunar landings in mind, and did not automatically support such extensive manoeuvres, the astronauts had to burn the engines for exactly the right amount of time in order to adjust their trajectory and hit the Earth’s atmosphere at the correct angle. In need of total accuracy, Swigert relied on his Omega Speedmaster wristwatch to measure the exacts lengths of engine burns. As the crew began the descent, they timed the first burn lasting 14 seconds. It was so precise that only two slight further adjustments were necessary. 

On April 17th, the LM made a splash into the South Pacific, and Lovell, Swigert, and Haise were immediately pulled out of the water by the rescue team.

The disaster was avoided thanks to NASA staff’s ingenuity and composure at a testing moment of near-death experience. Furthermore, the crew’s successful return to Earth was facilitated by the timely precision supplied by their purpose-built Speedmasters, which despite extreme temperature and pressure changes continued to measure time perfectly.

In celebration of Omega’s contribution to the Apollo 13 mission, in 2015, 45 years after the event, the brand released a commemorative Speedmaster Apollo 13 Silver Snoopy Award Edition.

The watch features a miniature sleeping Snoopy on one of the sub-dials, with a thought bubble above his head with the words: ‘Failure is not an option’ – a quote from the 1995 movie adaptation of the space mission. Across from the miniature is a small inscription on the dial between zero and fourteen seconds asking: ‘What would you do in 14 seconds?’  This, of course, is a reference to the length of time the crew burned the engine before re-entering to Earth’s atmosphere.

Back of the commemorative watch of the 45th Anniversary of Apollo 13

 

On the back of the watch is a beautifully executed, handmade engraving of Snoopy in space in sterling silver mounted on a plate of the same material, surrounded by dark blue enamel.

All in all, the Speedmaster Apollo 13 Silver Snoopy Award pays tribute to all those involved in allowing the crew of Apollo 13 to return safely to Earth. Moreover, the timepiece demonstrates the important role the original Speedmaster Professionals played in space exploration.

 

Images©: Header. National Geographic   1. & 2. Omega

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