As a prelude to the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in July, we remember the Omega Speedmaster that joined in the adventure.
We’re nearly two decades into the 21st century and some of us still wonder in awe at how the ancients built the pyramids, stacked Stonehenge or sculpted the Moai status on Easter Island. But we needn’t look so far back for miraculous feats, because a species as ingenious and as impatient with the status quo as the human race can never sit still for any period of time without creating something new, for better or for worse. On our “better” list, the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969 ranks up there as one of the greatest engineering coups of all time. It didn’t happen in some dark epoch of history beyond living memory, and it was seen ‘live’ by rapt TV audiences in 33 countries. It’s such a stupendous feat that unfolded in real time (give some for transmission lag) before the eyes of an entire generation still living, that conspiracy theories of the whole affair being a hoax persist in some quarters.
Shooting a multi-stage rocket more than 380km into space, carrying crew with orbiter, lander, return capsule… every stage of the Apollo mission required immense precision for success. When we consider that something as mundane as hailing a cab today requires the ensemble effort of satellites, smartphones, networks and apps operating unseen, it is all the more incredible that NASA did all the above – boots on the moon, spacemen scooped from ocean alive and well –with combined computing power that amounted to less than that of a single iPhone. And we thought stacking stones was hard! That’s all in the 1960s, and the world has advanced very far on all fronts since; but the Moon is still the furthest we’ve ever set foot from home, and beyond engineering, it also took lots of grit and guts, to complete this, the mother-of-all adventures.
As a prelude to the celebrations that undoubtedly await in July for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Omega released some information about its part in this great undertaking, from which we thought to cobble together a mini bio of the Omega Speedmaster that Apollo astronauts wore to the moon.
CK2915 (1957) – The First Speedmaster
Mankind wouldn’t be in space for another four years (Yuri Gagarin, 1961) so the “speed” in its name was a terrestrial concern, as the Speedmaster introduced in 1957 was embraced by the motor racing community. Optimized for its purpose, the Speedmaster was the first watch to have its tachymeter on the bezel, making it easier to derive speed from chronograph readings.
- Broad arrow hands
- Bare steel bezel with a base 1000 tachymeter scale
- Symmetrical case with straight lugs
- Calibre 321 manual-wind movement with column wheel
CK 2998 (1959) – Off to Space
The CK 2998 is the first Omega Speedmaster to go to space, worn by astronaut Walter Schirra (it was his personal watch) when he orbited the Earth six times in the Sigma 7 spacecraft on October 3, 1962.
- Black aluminum bezel
- “Alpha” hands with straight or lollipop central chronograph hand.
- Eventually, “base 1000” on the tachymeter scale was changed to base 500
ST 105.003 (1964) – NASA Qualified
It’s the stuff of legend, how NASA went chronograph shopping, tested a bunch and only one survived the set of 11 grueling tests to be officially qualified for use in the space program. This is the specific reference which earned NASA’s official stamp. Also nicknamed the “Ed White” for astronaut Ed White who became the first American astronaut to walk in space on June 3, 1965, during the Gemini 4 mission.
- First use of baton hands
ST 105.012 (1964) – On the Moon
Enough with the orbiting and space walks, this was the reference, together with the ST 145.012 introduced in 1967, which was worn during the Apollo missions, including landing on the Moon!
- New asymmetrical case offering greater protection to crown and pushers
- “Professional” appears on the dial for the first time
ST 145.022 (1968) – New Movement
The first major upgrade to the Speedmaster arrives in the form of a new movement, cal. 861, offering greater precision and robustness.
- 861 replaces column wheel construction for shuttle cam actuation
- Painted Omega logo instead of applique
- From 1970 onwards, the first Speedmaster to be inscribed with the text “FLIGHT-QUALIFIED BY NASA FOR ALL MANNED SPACE MISSIONS”, and “THE FIRST WATCH WORN ON THE MOON”
3188.8.131.52.01.005 – Moonwatch in the Current Collection
Speedmasters can be had today in a wide variety of references, some fancier than others. For something that is modern yet can be traced directly to the Speedmasters that went to space and the moon, the present-day Moonwatch is little-changed from its very accomplished forebears, featuring the cal. 1861, which is a further improvement of the cal. 861, with more rhodium-plating for greater durability.