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Speedmasters @ NASA

First Speedmasters in Space : Mercury Program

The Speedmaster was first flight tested in space by Walter Schirra aboard Sigma 7, October 1962, it was not an official choice from NASA but Schirra's personnal choice (watch ref number CK2998 : the second model of Speedmaster)

The watch works perfectly and was used as backup to the on-board clock. On-board timing devices in the Mercury capsule were internal to the spacecraft and wristwatches had not undergone specific testing, as the astronaut never left the protected environment of the spacecraft.

On the last Mercury Mission, Gordon Cooper (watch ref number CK2998) wore both the Omega chronograph and a Bulova Accutron Astronaut in order to compare the accuracy of the manually-wound Omega to the then new electronic Bulova. The Omega was used to time the firing sequence of the retro rockets for re-entry.

Walter Schirra in Mercury capsule Sigma 7

3 October 1962


with the Gemini and Apollo programs, astronauts would also need wrist timing devices to help them with EVA activities, such as spacewalks, photographic timing exposures, and timing fuel cell purges. Such a watch should be able to operate in the vacuum of space where there exists wide variances in temperature and pressure.

Edward White during first US EVA : Gemini IV

9 June 1965


Gemini Program

In 1962, NASA decided to equip the astronauts of its future Gemini programm with a highly accurate, legible, resistant and reliable wrist chronograph.

Donald K. Slayton, head of the flight Crew Operations , took action to select the chronographs :

For the purpose of comparison tests, NASA purchased chronographs different brands from Corrigan's, a large retailer in Houston, Texas the following watches where purchased : Elgin, Benrus, Hamilton, Mido, Piccard, Omega, Bulova, Rolex, Longine and Gruen. Of theses only 3 where selected for the comparative evaluation testing :

Longines, Omega and Rolex (Omega movement : Omega 321 , Rolex movement : Valjoux 72 , Longines : Longines 13 ZN)

1965 first qualification program :

Model tested : probably 105.012 no documents found for the moment to firmly state this , but for sure a Speedmaster equiped with Omega 321 caliber

High temperature: 48 hours at 71º C followed by 30 minutes at 93º C. This under a pressure of 0,35atm and relative humidity not over 15%.

Low temperature: Four hours at -18º C.

Temperature-pressure: 0,000001atm and temperature raised to 71º C. Temperature then lowered to -18º C in 45 minutes and again raised to 71º C in 45 minutes. This cycle was repeated fifteen times.

Relative humidity: 240 hours in relatuve humidity of at least 95% and at temperatures varying between 20º C and 71º C. The steam had a pH value of between 6,5 and 7,5.

Oxygen atmosphere: Exposure to 100% oxygen atmosphere at a pressure of 0,35atm and a temperature of 71º C for 48 hours.

Shock: Six 11 millisecond shocks of 40g each in six different directions.

Acceleration: Linear acceleration from 1g to 7,25g within 333 seconds.

Decompression: 90 minutes in a vaccum of 0 10-6 atm and a temperature of 71º C and 30 minutes in the same vaccum but at a temperature of 93ºC.

High pressure: Exposure to 1,6atm for one hour.

Vibration: Three cycles of 30 minutes (lateral, horizontal and vertical), the frequency varying from 5 to 2000cps and back to 5cps in 15 minutes. Average acceleration per impulse 8,8g.

Acoustic noise: 130dB over a frequency range from 40 to 10000Hz for 30 minutes

Results of the tests :

Omega Speedmaster : gained 21 minutes during decompression test and lost 15 minutes during the acceleration test , the luminescence of the dial was lost during the test

Rolex Daytona : stopped running on two occasions during the relative humidity test and during the high pressure test when the sweep second hand wraped and press against the other hands

Longine Wittnauer : Crystal warped and disengaged during the high pressure test , same fault occured during the decompression test

Final conclusion : the Omega chronograph performmed satisfactorily

In 1965, NASA chose the Omega Speedmaster Professional as the official chronograph for the space program.

With the first Gemini flight (GT3) with astronauts Grissom and Young, the Speedmaster Professional became part of the standard equipment issued to the astronauts. The watch was worn on the outside of the pressure suit with the use of a large black velcro band.

The Speedmaster was worn during the first walk in space by an American, Edward White, in 1965. Two speedmasters were worn by each Gemini astronaut one set on mission time , the other one on GMT or Huston time.


1967 : Apollo Program

Due to its performance, reliability and success with the Gemini programm the Speedmaster Professional was selected again as the official chronograph by NASA for project Apollo.

Each astronaut wore one chronograph for spaceflight as a standard issue. Most, however, wore two during spaceflight. some astronauts have used other watches as backup only one speedmaster was issued to the astonauts.

A speedmaster qualified for space flight


The First watch worn on the moon ?

As the official chronograph for all Apollo missions, the Speedmaster Professional was worn by Frank Borman and crew on man's first journey to orbit the moon during Christmas of 1968

Anybody might think that the first watch on the moon was worn by Neil Armstrong ... but ...he did not wear his Speedmaster on his walk on the moon. An instrument had malfunctioned during the LEM's Decent and his Speedmaster was left in the LEM to serve as a replacement :

"our mission timer was out, and we decided we had better leave one wristwatch inside in case it (the one taken outside) got damaged. We would have at least one working watch to back up the mission timer or to use in place of the mission timer, in case we could not get it going again" Armstrong, from the 1969 Technical Debrief

Therefore the very first watch to be worn on the moon was Aldrin's Speedmaster

Which Speedmaster models had Armstrong and Aldrin ?

According to the Early Manned Spaceflight Astronaut Equipment Division of Space History
National Air and Space Museum :

Neil Armstrong's chronograph has the following information: Calibre 321, Case # 105.012, Movement # 24002981, NASA serial # 046

Mike Collins' chronograph has the following information: Calibre 321, Case # 145.012, Movement # 26552506, NASA Serial # 073

Was the Speedmaster the only watch worn on the moon ?

Apollo XV, astronaut David Scott from a 1996 letter - "I do not recall ever having looked at my watch after egress. In the cabin after EVA-2, I noticed that the crystal of my Omega had popped off sometime during the EVA. Therefore, on EVA-3, I used my backup Waltham watch (which was) of a similar type. It worked just fine during the even higher temperatures of EVA-3.]".

Which models of Speedmaster where worn on the moon ?

For sure at least the two models of Aldrin and Armstrong : 145.012 and 105.012 both fitted with the Omega 321 movement.

Thomas Stafford wore a 105.003 during Apollo X mission he used the same watch as his previous missions in Gemini VI and Gemini IX

Astronaut Ronald Evans, Apollo XVII wore a 105.012 or 145.012 NASA Serial #61 during his mission to the moon . Apollo XVII was the last mission to the moon in December 1972 and we could not find any evidence that later model of Speedmasters have been ever worn on the moon

According to Omega : "Without having a firm confirmation from the NASA, it is obvious that the Moon Landing has been made exclusively with Speedmaster having the caliber 321 : tested by the NASA, hence if delivered in 1968, no chance to be on the they had more than enough watches, all equipped with the cal. 321 in stock !" Omega Vintage Information

This information concerning NASA stock is confirmed by the document of 1972 stating on watch stock :"NASA has purchased a total of 97 Chronographs. Theses chronographs were used on the manned space missions beginning with Gemini III. Of the 97 watches, 17 could no longer be used or had been lost. In 1972, there where an inventory of 20 unused units at the flight center . The remaining 60 units had already been used or had undergone repairs to bring them up to specification."

Aldrin on the surface of the moon 20 July 1969

Richard Gordon Apollo XII 14 November 1969


Conclusion :

The first watch worn on the moon was a Speedmaster 145.012 fitted with the Omega 321 caliber (Aldrin's watch)

There was at least one other watch brand worn on the moon : the David Scott's Waltham (Apollo XV)

The 3 different types of Speedmaster known to have been worn on the moon are the 105.003, 105.012 and 145.012 all theses models are fitted with the Omega 321 caliber

Occording to Omega informations no other types of Speedmaster have ever been on the moon , excluding the theory of a Speedmaster powered by the caliber 861 worn on the moon (at least as an official watch)

There is no evidence of any Speedmaster 145.022 fitted with caliber 861 ever worn on the moon

So which model is "the moon watch" ?

Funnilly the REAL "moon watch" is NOT the model which is engraved "the first watch on the moon"the 145.022, but the previous models both 105.003, 105.012 and 145.012 !

This does not mean that the 145.022 never flew on Apollo program : Donald K. Slayton watch (published in "Time Capsure") is clearly a 145.022 which flew during the Apollo-Soyuz mission

Bulova vs Omega

The use of Swiss chronographs in the American space program met with political resistance by a number of American watch makers, specifically the Bulova Watch Company. In the early days of the space program, Bulova did not make a chronograph, but makes a considerable pressure on NASA to use Bulova products. There were various meetings with NASA officials in order to promote the use of their products.

The conclusion of the Apollo program was nearing with Apollo 17 scheduled for December 1972. As this date approached, the Bulova Watch Company lbecame increasingly concerned that its products be used for this last manned lunar mission. General Bradley (President of Bulova) having determined that it would be impossible to overturn the support for Omega, switched strategy of obtaining the highest polical support in the US governement.

The wqtch issue was taken up to the congress which asked why the space program, undertaken by the nation, did not use a domestically produced watch

Thus it was decided by the Administrator on NASA, James Fletcher, that if a suitable Bulova chronograph could be found, it would be used on the last Apollo mission. Bulova had insisted that chronographs chosen by NASA follow the policy of the "buy American" regulations estalished by the Senate.


Second qualification program

In August of 1972, sixteen companies were notified by NASA that the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) planned to establish a Qualified Product List for possible future procurement of astronaut watches.

This list included: Breitling, the Bulova , Elmore, Elgin, Forbes, Girard-Perregaux, Gruen, Hamilton, Heuer, LeJour, Longines-Wittnauer, Omega, Rolex, Seiko and Zodiac.

Both Bulova and Omega were eager to comply with the "Buy American Act" which meant 51 precent of the products must be made or manufactured in the United States.

In order to comply with this act, Omega had the stainless steel cases for the Speedmaster Professional manufactured in Luddington, Michigan by the Starr Watch Case Company. The crystals were shipped from Switzerland to the Starr Watch Company where they were installed. The completed case and crystal were then shipped to the Hamilton Watch Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for inspection and testing. The case and crystals were then shipped to Switzerland where the movements were installed and the entire watch was subjected to final inspection and environmental testing.

The Bulova Watch Company submitted 16 chronographs for testing at this time. It was later learned that these watches were manufactured in Switzerland and that Bulova had purchased these chronographs through their subsidiary in Switzerland, Universal Geneve. The 16 chronographs were disassembled by Bulova in their research laboratory and a new crystal, a new machine case, specifically manufactured pin, a new crown and stem, a new face and dials and certain gaskets, washers and screws were replaced on each watch. The original movements and the back of each watch were retained.

When confronted with the fact that these watches were, in actuality, Swiss chronographs, Bulova stated that they had invested $23,000 of research and development funds in developing and tooling the process. Thus, by utilizing these R&D costs, the watches were found to qualify under the "Buy American Act."


1972 qualification tests :

Omega Model tested : 145.022 according Omega

1. Vacuum testing
The chronograph shall be subjected to a vacuum of 1x10-6 Torr or better for a total of 72 hours. During the first 10 hours of testing the temperature of the items shall be increased to 160 (+/-10) degrees F. The temperature shall then be returned to 78 (+/-10) degrees F for the remainder of the test.

2. Oxygen Atmosphere/Temperature Test
The test items shall be placed in atmosphere of 95 +/-5 percent oxygen at a pressure of 5+/-0.1 psia and a temperature of 155 +/-5 degrees F for 72 hours. Gas samples extracted from the chamber area shall be analyzed for organic and CO content per test number 6 of D-NA-0002.

3. Low Temperature
The test items shall be lowered to 0 +/- 5 degrees F. This temperature shall be maintained for 10 +/-0.5 hours. The test items shall be allowed to return to ambient before functional testing.

4. Acceleration
The test items shall be subjected to 20's +/- 2 g's in each direction of the three (3) perpendicular axes.

5. Random Vibration
The test items shall be installed in a fixture and submitted to 7.8 g's RMS for 5 +/-0.1 minutes, as defined in figure 2 in each of 3 axes. The test fixture with the test items shall then be submitted to 3.2 g's for 12 +/-0.1 minutes as defined in figure 1, in each of the 3 axes [Eds. Note: Figures not provided].

6. EMI Test
The test items shall be subjected to all applicable requirements of Mil-STD-461A, if an electromechanical movement is employed.

7. Humidity Testing
The test items shall be submitted to a humidity test per MIL-STD-810B, Method 507, Procedure I, except minimum temperature shall be 68 deg F and maximum temperature shall be 120 deg F.

Results of the tests :

During humidity test the bulova watch stopped three times, and stopped again during the acceleration test. According to the criteria, it must be conclued that the Bulova chronograph is not appropriate for the Apollo missions.


1978 qualification tests :

The topic of astronaut timepieces was quiet for several years until 1976 when Bulova became interested in supplying time pieces for the Space Shuttle missions.

Once again, NASA initiated a competetive solicitation. A new deadline was extended several times so Bulova could participate.

In September 1978, astronaut chronograph watches wishing to be considered for the space shuttle program underwent yet another round of prescribed space flight environmental testing.

This included:

Low temperature
Shock testing

The test where acheived by two independant laboratories : one in Switzerland : the Neuchatel Observatory and the LSRH and one in the US : : Approved test laboratories of Chatsworth in California

Omega submit 3 different models of watches for thoses tests : the Speedmaster Professional (cal 861) the Speedmaster "125" (cal 1041) and the Speedsonic (cal tuning fork 1255)

The technical evaluation team determined that, of the chronographs submitted by Bulova for space flight environmental testing, no single watch was exposed to all environmental tests. Also, one watch failed in salt-fog testing and all 3 watches exposed to vacuum testing failed. Accordingly, the Bulova chronographs were determined to be in non-compliance with the specified environmental requirements.

Once again, the Omega Speedmaster professional chronograph was superior to the other chronographs tested. The Speedmaster Professional met all environmental requirements, had the highest technical score, and was offered at the lowest price. Therefore, the Omega was accepted for procurement. The watch was offered to NASA at the cost of $0.01 per watch. NASA bought a serie of 56 watches after thoses tests

The 3 Omega models presented to the 1978 qualification :

The Speedmaster professional

The Speedmaster "125"

The Speedmaster "Speedsonic"

In April 1981, STS-1, the first shuttle mission, was launched with Commander John Young wearing the Speedmaster Professional.

Now that the shuttle flights have become operational, there are no longer requirements by NASA for specific watches to be worn during shuttle missions. With the exception of extravehicular activity, all astronauts are confined within the pressurized environment of the shuttle. Nonetheless, the Speedmaster continues to be used by many of the shuttle astronauts.

In 1989, with the Soviet Union's improved attitude toward the West, the Soviet Union selected Omega as the watch supplied to all cosmonauts.


6 Posts
In memory of Walter Schirra:

Six months before I joined the Baha'i Faith, the then U.S. Navy test pilot, Walter M. Schirra, was named by NASA as one of the seven Mercury Astronauts. It was April 1959. Three and a half years later, On October 3 1962, a month after my pioneering life began in the Canadian Baha'i community, Shirra piloted the six orbit Sigma 7 Mercury flight, a flight which lasted 9 hours, 15 minutes. The spacecraft attained a velocity of 17,557 miles per hour at an altitude of 175 statute miles and travelled almost 144,000 statute miles before re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Recovery of the Sigma 7 spacecraft occurred in the Pacific Ocean about 275 miles northeast of Midway Island.

Shirra died yesterday. I received the news while watching television here in Australia at the mid-point in my day of writing and reading. I usually take a break for lunch in the early afternoon about 1 or 2 p.m., watch/listen to some news and get back to the work. As I listened to the report I felt a kinship with Shirra even though he was twenty-two years my senior, had at least three honorary doctorates, a number of major awards, had been inducted into several halls of fame and had business and civic experience that was, to say the least, impressive. I was not in his league. But, still, I felt this kinship with the man and when I heard he had died, it was a cause for reflection. No tears were shed. I had no desire to meet him, talk to him on the phone, write the biography of his life, meet any of his family or indeed excavate in the inner motivations and or the outward experience of this pioneering astronaut.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 4 May 2007.

You were from Hackensack1
and I was from Hamilton, but
what a high-flier you were, Walter!
One of aviation's Hall of Famers
in your Sigma 7 back in '62, in '65
in that Gemini 6 or that first manned
test of an Apollo spacecraft in '68
for the moon landing-reaching for
the skies! And they say you were
quite the entertainer.2

And me, Wally, just one of those
ordinarily ordinary boys from one
of a 1000 towns across this land.
The first to rendezvous in space,
you were--and it was not over,
you said, until you had stopped,
with no relative motion between
the two vehicles.3
I always wondered
what a rendezvous of my soul with its
Source of light was exactly, Wally,
well, you've given me a hint.........

I wish you well,Walter, as you head
to that Undiscovered Country as poet
Shelley called It-from which no man
ever returns-such is my belief, anyway.

1 Shirra was born in this New Jersey town on 12 March 1923.
2 "Levity is appropriate in a dangerous trade," Shirra said to Life magazine
3 Wikipedia, "Walter M. Shirra," 4 May 2007

Ron Price 5 May 2007 (completed: 9 June 2007)
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