Ask a watch aficionado to name an astronaut’s watch and 9 time out of time, most of us would name the Omega Speedmaster Professional – the legendary “Moonwatch”. Readers know I love these watches and in the last few months alone, I have traded a few of these watches and written about them as well.
I did recently start thinking though about what other watches could have played a part in the last half century of space exploration. A little research shows that whilst the Moonwatch was the first watch worn on the moon, it was a humble, military issue, Moscow built Sturmanskie that was the first watch in space. Worn by legendary cosomonaut Yuri Gagarin when orbiting the earth in 1961, this simple, hand wound watch, issued when he became a military pilot was what he had strapped to his wrist during that historic flight. Looking at this watch, it is no wonder that it never caught on the way the Moonwatch did. At 38mm it probably looked dated even in 1961. Poljot – the name given to the First Moscow Watch factory, which produced the Sturmanskie has however capitalized this as much as possible and released commemorative versions of this watch in recent years.
The first watch used during a moon walk in space was also a Poljot. This was a 40mm, Poljot Strela chronograph that Aleksei Leonov strapped on his wrist for his 1965 spacewalk.
American astronauts have invariably chosen Swiss timepieces for use in space. IN 1962, John Glenn opted for a mechanical Heuer (Tag Heuer) stopwatch ref. 2915A, on a strap fashioned out of elastic bands to secure it onto the sleeve of his spacesuit. Tag has recently started trading on this and released the Space X, which is styled loosly after Glenn’s Heuer, with vintage cues and the words “First Swiss Watch in Space – 1962” engraved on the caseback ala Moonwatches.
In the mid 60’s’, NASA decided to test and approve a specific timepiece as standard gear on all manned space flights. The watch that outlasted them all was the now – famous Omega Speedmaster. While it was its presence as the first moon landing on which Omega likes to hang it’s hat, it wasn’t on Neil Armstrong’s wrist but Buzz Aldrin’s. Neil Armstrong left his watch in the landing module as a backup to a malfunctioning electronic timer.
The current whereabouts of Aldrin’s Moonwatch remain unknown as it was lost in the mail en route to the Smithsonian museum.
Despite it’s designation as the only approved timepiece for manned space missions, astronauts continued to wear their own personal watches on flights into space. The Rolex GMT-Master and Breitling Navitimer are two popular models that are believed to have been worn by astronauts.
Many people erroneously think that the Moonwatch was approved by NASA because of its hand-wound movement and that a self-winding watch would not wind in space. The simple fact of the matter is that when the Moonwatch was chosen, the automatic chronograph has not been developed.
Many other watches have made the trip into outer space – even the humble Seiko. German astronaut, Dr William Pogue for example wore his Seiko 6139 Chronograph to time engine burns.
With the privatisation of space travel and developments in time keeping, all kinds of watches will be giving the Moonwatch a run for it’s money. Guy Laliberte wore an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Grand Complication and the Timex Ironman and Casio G-Shock are also NASA approved for space missions.
Given all this, am I ready to start looking at another “space” watch as a favourite? Nope, not yet and probably not anytime in the near future! 🙂