What would the Speedmaster be without the moon landing?


by Nils Rau

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July 20. 2019 - by Nils Rau

The moon landing of the Apollo 11 crew has made the Omega Speedmaster a legend. But what if Moonwatch hadn't participated in the NASA missions at all? Let’s activate our imagination for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.


62 years Speedmaster, 50 years Moonwatch

The first Omega Speedmaster (reference CK 2915) was launched in 1957. Both the name and the tachymeter scale on the bezel indicate that the watch was originally designed for motorsport. But not too long after, in October 1962 to be precise, everything changed: In the course of the Mercury program, Walter Schirra brought an Omega Speedmaster into space for the first time with the reference CK 2998. However, Schirra had bought the watch himself and had not received it from NASA as part of the equipment. 

When the Mercury program was finished and the Gemini missions were about to start in 1963, the question of a wristwatch for the missions first arose. At that time, the state of the equipment was still in the research phase. According to the NASA memos, a highly durable and accurate chronograph to be used by Gemini and Apollo flight crews was required. At the end of 1964, three different chronographs (more manufacturers did not respond to NASA's request) were finally subjected to a merciless test, which placed the highest demands on the resistance of the watches. The Speedmaster (reference ST 105.003) provided by Omega was the only watch that passed this test.

From then on, the Omega Speedmaster was the official equipment of NASA astronauts. The watch accompanied all space programs, including the legendary Apollo 11 mission, which culminated in its first moon landing on the night of July 20-21, 1969.

If the Speedmaster hadn't passed NASA's demanding test criteria, things as we know them today would probably have been quite different:

1. Speedmaster as part of the Seamaster series


Without the moon missions, the Speedmaster would not have become as popular as it is today. For this reason, the Speedmaster would probably not have had its own line within the Omega collection without participating in the NASA programs, but would still be part of the Seamaster series. This origin can also be recognised by the seahorse on the case back of current models. In addition, the Speedmaster would not have the additional “Professional” in its name, as this was only introduced because of the successful NASA certification. 

2. The classic classic model of the Speedmaster wouldn’t exit

When you look at the entire Omega collection, you notice that the Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch is the only model from the Swiss manufacturer that has hardly been changed in around six decades. The watch still has an aluminium bezel, manual winding movement, and hesalite glass. Without the legendary use of the watch in space, however, this classic model would no longer exist. There is a simple reason why this model is still produced in an almost unchanged form: the watch is preserved as it was certified by NASA so that the icon can still be obtained. Without the unique history of space, the standard model of the Speedmaster would most likely have a ceramic bezel, an automatic caliber and a sapphire crystal.

3. NASA missions without the wristwatch 

The thought that NASA would have resorted to another watch if the Speedmaster had failed is obvious. Let’s not forget, however, that no other watch passed the test in the 1960s. And a watch without the appropriate suitability would have posed an enormous safety risk, as its reliability would not have been guaranteed. There was a NASA internal list of ten possible watch manufacturers, but only two other watches were made available and tested to NASA in addition to the Speedmaster: A Longines-Wittnauer chronograph did not pass the temperature and decompression tests because the glass came loose. The Rolex Ref. 6238 (Pre-Daytona) did not pass the humidity test. The Omega Speedmaster Professional X-33 is to this day the second Omega watch with NASA certification. However, the watch was only available on the market in 1998.

4. The Apollo 13 mission would have been fatal.

In 1970, a catastrophe almost occurred: just 56 hours after the start of the Apollo 13 crew, one of the two oxygen tanks exploded. At that time, the space shuttle was 300,000 kilometres away from Earth; the moon was not far away. The explosion of the tank also damaged the second tank, which meant that electricity and water could only be produced for a few hours, as this required oxygen. The crew decided to orbit the moon and use the gravitational field to gain enough momentum to return to Earth. 

The re-entry into the earth's atmosphere required a timing accurate to the second, because otherwise the space shuttle would have been catapulted forever into the infinite vastness of the universe. Using the Speedmaster chronograph, the crew had to activate the rocket ignition for exactly 14 seconds (with a maximum error deviation of ten percent). The astronauts succeeded in this tightrope act and returned to Earth unharmed. Without a reliable wrist chronograph, however, the Apollo 13 mission would have been fatal with a probability bordering on certainty. 

5. Omega would have lacked its crowd puller

Of course, there is a lot more to Omega than just the role it played in the Apollo missions. The Seamaster series is also an extremely successful collection. But without the Moonwatch's unique history, Omega would not only lack the Moonwatch story as a unique selling point, but also the brand's main attraction and crowd puller: a look at our statistics shows that the Speedmaster is one of the best-selling luxury watches.

Nils Rau

by Nils Rau

Nils is a guest author for the CHRONEXT Journal. He currently dedicates most of his free time to wristwatches – be that talking with friends, browsing through blogs and online magazines, or keeping an eye on the timepiece stock exchange. When he is not contributing to the CHRONEXT Journal, he works as a junior lawyer in Northern Germany. His articles focus on brands, trends, as well as the philosophical questions within the world of fine watches.

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