On July 21, 1969, Captain Buzz Aldrin descended the ladder of Eagle, the Apollo 11 Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), and became the second individual to stroll on the surface of the moon. Strapped to the outdoors of his space-suit sleeve with a extended nylon Velcro band was an Omega Speedmaster Expert, hence becoming the 1st wristwatch on our personal celestial pet rock and securing the greatest promoting hook in history.
Fifty years later, Omega is nonetheless capitalizing on the Speedmaster’s lunar provenance, with annual restricted editions, tributes, and events exactly where it parades octogenarian astronauts onstage alongside George Clooney. But it is not mere fluff. The hand-wound mechanical watch is nonetheless the only watch NASA approves for EVA, or added-vehicular activity. Its celebrity was also totally organic and tough-won by way of a brutal choice method that eliminated other prominent brands from the operating. For these causes, the “Speedy” retains a reputation as an sincere timepiece in a field swollen by promoting hyperbole and higher rates.
The Speedmaster’s story starts back in the late 1950s, when Omega, hunting to capitalize on the expanding interest in motor sports, released a stark, oversized chronograph (a watch with a stopwatch function) with a tachymeter scale on the outer ring for timing laps on a racetrack. It was instantly well-known with racing fans and gearheads alike. A single of these fans was Wally Schirra, a hotshot test pilot, who showed up for the Mercury astronaut choice in an Austin-Healey roadster and with a Speedmaster on his wrist.
When Schirra blasted off into earth’s orbit in 1962, his private Omega went with him (John Glenn wore a TAG Heuer, Scott Carpenter a Breitling). By 1965, NASA decided it required to locate a typical watch for all manned spaceflight and referred to as in a handful of candidates, from Longines and Omega to Rolex and Wittnauer. Right after a battery of tests that tested the watches’ resilience to severe vibration, cold, heat, and acceleration, the agency selected the Omega Speedmaster. Later that year, when Ed White became the 1st American to venture outdoors a capsule and stroll in space, he did so with the Speedy on his wrist, a photo of which created its way into Omega magazine advertisements.
In the late sixties, all points space have been the rage, a hype only hinted at this summer time with the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Like drinking Tang, wearing a Speedmaster was 1 of the handful of tangible methods a space nerd could emulate their astronaut heroes. It continued to sell well even immediately after the Apollo plan ended, space exploits faded from public focus, and digital quartz watches replaced mechanicals on most wrists. Mainly because NASA recertified the Speedmaster for use on space-shuttle missions in the seventies, Omega didn’t dare meddle with it, maintaining it precisely as it was in 1957.
The Speedmaster’s extraterrestrial mettle also created it a appropriate adventure companion on earth. In 1968, the 1st expedition to undisputedly attain the North Pole by surface implies was timed by the Speedmaster. And as late as 1990, Reinhold Messner wore 1 when he crossed Antarctica on foot.
There’s anything poignant about the truth that even currently, as Elon Musk is sending Teslas into space and NASA is aiming for Mars, there remains a quaint remnant of a much more seat-of-the-pants era: a watch that has to be wound by hand and that instances engine burns and EVAs with a gear train driven by a tightly coiled spring.
And it could nonetheless be valuable. The purpose Neil Armstrong’s Speedmaster wasn’t the 1st on the moon was simply because he left it in the LEM as a fail-secure backup to a glitchy electronic onboard timer.
Lead Photo: Courtesy NASA