There is one watch that has gone beyond this earth in terms of its fame and reliability and that is the Omega Speedmaster Professional, the original Nasa moonwatch that has gone to space and to the moon.
This is the watch that Buzz Aldrin wore on the surface of the moon in July 1969(although Neil Armstrong was the mission commander and first man on the moon, he wasn’t wearing his watch on his first walk on the surface because the lunar module’s internal clock had broken down, and Armstrong left his watch behind). Unfortunately this watch has gone missing and is probably the most prized collector’s watch anywhere in the world. Buzz Aldrin wrote in his autobiography that he was required to hand over the watch along with some other personal effects to Nasa. He boxed these all up and they were sent to the Smithsonian museum, but when the box arrived it was discovered that someone had taken the watch.
The history of the Omega Speedmaster Professional
The most amazing thing of all about this amazing watch is that it was never designed to be worn in space. It was originally designed for racing-car drivers and was thought of as a poor-man’s version of the more famous and more expensive Rolex Daytona. Yet some of the features that made it useful for racing drivers (including a prominent chronometer) also made it useful for space exploration.
Apparently Nasa had not given much thought to what watch its astronauts would be wearing until quite late in the space programme. A hurried shopping trip was undertaken and Nasa employees chose a few watches for testing from a local jeweller in Houston (although there is some dispute about this version of events). The watches were subjected to various tests including heat, pressure and shock to see if they could survive the rigours of space. The Omega Speedmaster was then chosen after passing the tests with flying colours.
In 1965 this watch was worn on a “space walk” strapped to the outside of a space suit by Ed White. It was then also worn on the moon by Aldrin.
The rescue of Apollo 13
Although the Omega Speedmaster won wide acclaim for its association with space and astronauts, it wasn’t an essential tool of space missions until it was credited with helping to save the stricken Apollo 13 spaceship and crew.
Apollo 13 was meant to be the third mission to land on the moon. But after blastoff an oxygen tank burst, causing great damage to the ship.
The ship was stricken with its navigation systems and computers knocked out. Luckily Nasa had figured out a way of navigating the ship using the earth’s terminator (the line between day and night on the planet, as seen from space). Having figured out exactly where the space ship was, there was still the difficulty of firing its rockets without a navigation computer or flight control system. In the end Nasa calculated how long the rocket-burn would have to be to get the ship back on a re-entry trajectory. Part of the credit for this goes to the use of an Omega Speedmaster Professional, which was accurate enough to time the rocket burn needed to get the ship on course.
The Omega Speedmaster also kept its association with racing drivers, even though it is now seen as closely linked with space. An example of this is its advertising in the 1990s when it used Michael Schumacher as a brand ambassador (though I’m not sure it used the term then) when it quoted him saying “trust your judgement, trust your Omega” when pictured with an Omega Speedmaster Automatic.