It’s easy for us to brush off the concept of space travel. After all, the 3rd generation of Star Wars films are in cinemas and Elon Musk’s SpaceX is exploring the possibility of colonizing Mars. But it was only 50 years ago when humans witnessed the (what was then thought) impossible on black and white TV — Neil Armstrong landing on and planting the American flag on the surface of the Moon, a defining moment in human history.
Today, to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the Apollo 11, we remember the 12 men who have walked the moon, and the faithful Speedmasters that accompanied them on their celestial voyages.
On July 16, 1969 the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 team took off from the Kennedy Space Center on man’s virgin attempt to land on the Moon. The takeoff was largely televised and celebrated, although the full magnitude of the importance of the mission would take another 3 days to kick in.
The crew of this flight consisted of Commander Neil Armstrong, Module Pilot Michael Collins as well as Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
The two astronauts who landed on the moon were Armstrong and Aldrin, and you’ve probably seen footage where Armstrong steps off the footpad of the Eagle and onto the moon’s surface, declaring “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
On their wrists were the reference 105.012 Omega Speedmaster chronographs. Actually, Aldrin had his on-wrist (being a self-proclaimed watch guy) while Armstrong left his on board as a backup for the faulty Lunar Module timer. Years later, their watches (being property of the US government) were donated to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum where Aldrin’s watch unfortunately went missing in transit.
Armstrong passed on in 2012 while Aldrin remains an advocate for space travel, even working with Omega for this year’s 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.
Just months later in the same year, on November 14th, Apollo 12 embarked on NASA’s sophomore trip to the moon. The team consisted of Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr., Command Module Pilot Richard “Dick” Gordon and Lunar Module Pilot Alan L. Bean. Conrad and Bean were the ones that were assigned to do scientific work on the lunar surface.
Conrad, being a man of lighthearted nature parodied Armstrong and announced “Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me” as part of a bet with a reporter (he mentioned that he never collected the money). Speedmasters with the reference 105.012 as well were on their wrists throughout the mission.
Conrad passed in 1999 and Bean in 2018. It is worth noting that Bean, being an avid painter was the only artist to have gone to space. This influence is greatly reflected in his work, which can be viewed here: https://www.alanbean.com/
On January 31st 1971, a little less than a year after the infamous tale of Apollo 13 (where Jack Swigert’s Speedmaster saved the pilots), the crew of Apollo 14, consisting of Commander Alan Shepard, Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell embarked on a redemption journey to the moon.
And redemption they found — not only did the crew land safely, Shepard performed the most accurate lunar landing of the Apollo missions. Shepard and Mitchell performed the moonwalks, while Roosa supervised. They were believed to have worn the reference 145.012 as the pushers on their watches look enlarged as compared to the 105.012 models worn by previous Apollo astronauts.
Shepard, who was the only man to play golf on the moon (saying his swing went on for miles and miles) sadly passed on in 1998, followed by Mitchell in 2016.
Following the success of Apollo 14, NASA carried on with Apollo 15 just 6 months later, on 26th July 1971 with a crew consisting of Commander David Scott, Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin. With confidence earned from prior missions, Apollo 15 was more ambitious, with a greater focus on science with breakthroughs such as a longer stay on the Moon and the inaugural use of the Lunar Roving Vehicle.
Despite its success, Apollo 15 was littered with controversy, due to the misdemeanors of the crew members involving a handful of smuggled stamps which were then resold by a West German merchant.
Irwin donned the reference 105.012 possibly issued in 1967. While there are no solid pictures to identify the reference Scott wore, it is known that he wore a prototype Bulova Wrist Chronograph, ref. 885104/01 2’509’052 on his third moonwalk due to a faulty hesalite crystal on his Speedy. The watch then went on to sell for $1.65 million in 2015 at an auction.
Irwin, who was a devout Christian, spent his retirement leading expeditions in search of Noah’s ark. He passed in 1991, the first of the Apollo astronauts. Scott is currently spending his retirement in Los Angeles.
On April 16th 1972, NASA sent the Apollo 16 team, consisting of Commander John Watts Young, Command Module Pilot Thomas Mattingly III and Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke Jr. once again to the Moon, with the intention to collect geologically older lunar material and specimens to learn more about the history/origin of the moon.
Young and Duke performed 3 spacewalks over 3 days on the Moon, each donning their 145.012 Speedmasters. Young, who had the most prolific career of any astronaut (he served 42 years in NASA and flew 6 spaceflights) passed on in 2018. Duke is currently chairman of the board of directors of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
Fast forward 12 months to Apollo 17, the final mission of the Apollo program, and the last NASA mission involving a moon landing. The mission, which started on December 7th 1972 consisted of crew members Commander Eugene “Gene” Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt. The mission broke several crewed spaceflight records: the longest Moon landing, longest total extravehicular activities (moonwalks), largest lunar sample, longest time in lunar orbit, and, at 75, most lunar orbits.
It is worth pointing out that Schmitt was originally a geologist who had trained to be an astronaut, and had replaced original Apollo 14 backup astronaut Joe Engle (quite literally in the name of science) on this mission. Schmitt and Cernan spent a record 22 hours performing extravehicular activities. They wore reference 145.012 Speedmasters, the last reference to go to the moon.
After packing up and getting ready to leave, Cernan gave a short speech, concluding, “I’d just like to record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. … Godspeed, the crew of Apollo 17.” (condensed) With that, the crew and their Speedmasters took off and returned to Earth. Those were the last words spoken by man on the moon, marking the end of an era.
Cernan passed on in 2017. His legacy lives through the Cernan Earth and Space Center, a planetarium in Chicago. Schmitt went on to pursue a stint as a Republican senator, he has held a position as a professor in the University of Wisconsin since 1994. Both astronauts are also portrayed in the 2014 film, ‘The Last Man on the Moon’.
While the moon remains unvisited for nearly 5 decades, the Omega Speedmaster serves as a trusty reminder of the courage and bravery of the 12 men who have walked the moon and showed us that the sky is never the limit and to always chase the impossible.