The Apollo 11 blasted off on July 16, 1969 from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, USA. Four days later, Commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Eagle lunar module on the surface of the Moon, in the Sea of Tranquillity. Michael Collins remained in orbit in the command module Columbia.
People on Earth watched on television Armstrong descend the ladder of the lunar module and heard him utter the immortal words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” History was made and Omega Speedmaster that was originally made for racing cars, rechristened, Moonwatch.
The story of Moonwatch began in the 1960s when NASA was looking for some extremely reliable watches for their space program. The American space agency set up a sophisticated test procedure to select a wrist watch for the planned lunar flights and asked ten manufacturers to apply as suppliers. They were Elgin, Benrus, Hamilton, Bulova Mido, Lucien Piccard, Omega, Rolex, Longines and Gruen.
Only four answered; Omega, Longines, Rolex and Hamilton. The NASA trials were conducted on Omega, Longines and Rolex. Omega provided their Speedmaster model and Rolex provided their Cosmograf chronograph.
The precondition was a precision of +/-5 seconds to 24 hours, preferably no more than +/-2 seconds per 24 hours. The watches had to have a stopwatch function, be easy to read in all light conditions, anti-shock and anti-magnetic movement.
During the tests, the watches were exposed to temperatures of 71 to 93 degrees for two days, after which they were suddenly cooled to minus 18 degrees. Then they went into a vacuum chamber that was heated to 93 degrees. This was followed by a test that first heated the watches to 70 degrees and immediately froze them to minus 18 degrees, fifteen times in a row.
Once they survived this procedure, they were subjected to blows with a force of 40 g on the watch from six different directions. Then they had to endure 93% humidity, a highly corrosive 100% oxygen environment and noise of 130 decibels. At the end, they were allowed to vibrate for another 90 minutes, with at least an impulse of 8.8g acting on them. The trials were “designed literally to test the watches to destruction”. The only watch to endure the torture was Omega’s Speedmaster and was declared by NASA “Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions”.
During the troubled Apollo 13 mission of 1970, Omega’s Speedmaster watch proved to be a lifesaver to mission astronauts. Following the explosion of a reserve oxygen tank that damaged the electronic timekeeping mechanisms on board, Commander James Lovell used his mechanical manual-winding Speedmaster Chronograph to time the critical firing of the re-entry rockets, 14 seconds manoeuvre, allowing for the safe return of his crew to planet Earth. In recognition of this crucial role that the Omega Speedmaster chronograph played during the Apollo 13 mission, Omega received the “Snoopy" Award in October 1970, the highest honour awarded by NASA astronauts.
The Speedmaster witnessed another moment of enormous geopolitical importance. During the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission, when the Apollo rocket docked with the Soviet Union’s Soyuz in space for a handshake, American astronauts were delighted to discover that the Soviet cosmonauts were also wearing Omega Speedmaster chronographs.
OMEGA Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” features a black dial covered by a hesalite crystal and a small seconds sub-dial, 30-minute recorder and 12-hour recorder along with a central chronograph hand. The black bezel, with its tachymetric scale, is mounted on a 42 mm stainless steel case and presented on a matching steel/leather bracelet.
The watch nearly remained unchanged till last year when it received its first major change in the movement from calibre 1861 to calibre 3861. Now it's a METAS certified chronometer with 15,000 gauss anti-magnetic movement that can literally withstand a magnetic resonance imaging system (MRI), or the strength of a coin-sized magnet that can lift more than 9kg.
METAS or the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology Certification along with COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres) tests a watch under certain parameters, making it a ‘Master Chronometer’. The watch is certified not once, but twice and has passed 8 different tests related to quality, durability and accuracy.
The wide range of Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch and other Omega watches are available at Omega Boutique at Connaught Place, New Delhi.