Omega Speedmaster beats Rolex 6238 in NASA's race to conquer
It was July 20, 1969 when the Commander Neil Armstrong of the Apollo 11 mission put the first foot on the moon. A historic moment for all of humanity, far beyond the space supremacy that Russians and Americans have been pursuing for years in a race to the most striking act in space, just above the skies of the earth.
The famous Italian news agency HERE he told that event, which has gone down in history, describing it with the following stentorian phrases that said: “Neil Armstrong placed his left foot on the moon dust at 04:57 Italian time ".
Authentic thrills, remembered and celebrated last year on the company's 50th anniversary!
But how many really understood the effort that made it NASA for years he had been producing to reach that result, to say the least epochal? But, above all, what level of 360 ° technology was used so that the efforts of those years led to that first, unforgettable step on the lunar soil?
We at Jewellery Bonanno, specialized by 70's in the watch industry and especially in that Vintage, we will try to tell you a parallel story, with fascinating traits, also nice and intriguing and which refers to the choice of on-board instrumentationApollo 11 logically connected to the calculation of time, a factor of the utmost importance in the success of the Mission.
Our story begins when the NASA institutes a sophisticated test procedure to carry out its lunar flights. And he realizes that, in order to carry out the very important calculations that are the basis of every action, he must equip himself with the best calculation tools available in the world in that historical period. This need will give a tremendous impetus to the development, for example, of electronic calculators or, if you prefer, gods computers...
So start the search also for Watches E stopwatches for the calculation of the time factor and more, tools that are extremely reliable for a space program that aims to amaze the world by showing the superiority of American aviation to the whole world.
We are in the 60's when it all starts and in 1964 the NASA begins its official selection aimed at watches-chronometers that can serve as needed.
Without going into too much detail about these highly demanding tests for the instruments to be equipped with Houston ed a Cape Canaveral, a aboard the spaceship and to be delivered to the astronauts themselves (and on which a sort of logical smokescreen falls), the NASA it follows a rigorous selection with test procedures decidedly out of the ordinary.
Eventually only one model will be designated with a single house to produce it, asking well ten producers of watches to apply as suppliers:
Elgin, Benrus, Hamilton, Mido, Luchin Piccard, Omega, Rolex, bulova, Longine, Gruen.
In those years, however, the market already influenced certain choices. For example, the fame of the Rolex in United States, earned with the well-known story that We of the Jewellery Bonanno we told you about the GMT Master provided to flight crew PanAm.
And there is already talk of the iconic future Rolex Daytona, known as all Rolex for its solidity and efficiency, albeit with a modest success due to the price not really accessible to everyone.
the NASA so he decided to test other watches, however, with the house of the golden crown, however, in pole position.
But in consideration of the largest American space entity, the prices of a bitter competitor also rise: theOmega with his Speedmaster. At that time this watch already has an unusually large housing with yours 40 mm. and impresses with his Quadrant from design clear, clean and without frills: the three counters of the chronograph are in fact easy to read.
However, beyond the already established preferences of the market of that time, as a government agency from Houston the NASA presents a formal offer to obtain the so-called RFP (Request for Proposals) to the ten producers already mentioned.
The surprise is that of the ten producers requested, including the four Americans (Elgin, Benrus, Hamilton E bulova) and the other Swiss, answer only in quattro according to official statements made by Petros Protopapas, director ofOmega Museum in possession of the corresponding documents of the NASA:
• Omega USA, making use of the importer Norman M. Morris, based at New York City;
• Longines-Wittnauer, through Longines USA;
• Rolex USA;
• Hamilton, in that period still a brand 100% American.
At a first analysis of the proposals, the American house itself Hamilton it was eliminated immediately as it possesses certified pocket watch models, but without any wrist chronograph.
Furthermore, among the various conditions to access the test phases, an accuracy that can vary by 5 seconds A 24 ore, but preferably not more than +/- 2 seconds within 24 hours. Finally, the watch must have a chronograph-style stop function, be easy to read and above all antimagnetic.
They therefore remain at stake Omega, Longines E Rolex who are invited to the selection.
of the Longines you know which model while Omega provides the model Speedmaster of 1964, called ST105.003 and the Rolex the so-called model Pre-Daytona, named Cosmograph Reference 6238 with the manual winding movement Valjoux 72.
And thanks to the official documentation produced by Petros Protopapas, director ofOmega Museum, we can reconstruct for you how things went side Omega.
In the official order of the NASA, dated May 21, 1964, the American space agency buys twelve chronographs Omega, without bracelet, for a unit price of 82,50$: excellent evaluation considering the historical moment (one Speedmaster with a leather strap in Switzerland it cost 415 Swiss francs).
What were the watches supposed to do? The chief engineer of the NASA, tale James Ragan, sets up a kind of war path for them omega speedmaster and for the other competitors in the race!
This is because, for example, when a watch is exposed to the sun's rays in the vacuum of space, the rotation of the wrist alone can trigger a shock thermal than 100 ° degrees: in space there are no filters that we enjoy on earth!
Furthermore, the same happens when the watch is exposed to the unfiltered sun in the shade. On the moon, the climate is hostile and inhospitable, with temperatures fluctuating between -150° and beyond more than 100°: therefore explained why gods twelve clocks required.
During testing, the watches are exposed to temperatures between 71° E 93 ° degrees Per two days, to be suddenly cooled a -18 ° degrees. Then again they are placed in a hermetically sealed chamber, heated to 93 ° degrees to then be frozen again -18 ° degrees: the procedure is performed fifteen times in a row!
The omega speedmaster who pass the test, it would be better to say "survived", are then subjected to shock speed: it is subjected to an acceleration force of ben 40 G in six different directions when alone 1 G it is the classical or normal gravitational acceleration.
As if that weren't enough, the Watches have to endure the 93% humidity, a highly corrosive environment with 100% oxygen and a noise of 130 decibel. Finally, the last test is a vibration for 90 minutes, with at least an acceleration pulse of 8,8 G acting on them!
Not all of them Watches but they survive these lethal tests! In a letter dated March 1, 1965, the assistant director of crew operations aboard the Lem of Apollo 11 reports the following results:
A) Rolex - stopped twice during the relative humidity test; bad in the next high temperature test when the second hand bent and the other hands got stuck on the dial. No further tests were carried out on the chronograph Rolex.
B) Longines Wittnauer - The glass bent and fell off during the high temperature test. The same thing happened with the second Longines Wittnauer during the decompression test. No further tests were carried out with the Longines-Wittnauer chronograph.
C) Omega – He went 21 minutes ahead during the decompression test and lost 15 minutes during the acceleration test. The luminous material on the dial was destroyed during the tests. As a result of all the tests, the Omega chronograph performed satisfactorily.
So NASA tests recommend theomega speedmaster for his "Greater precision, reliability, readability and ease of use".
The same choice is made by astronauts Walter Schirra E Leroy Gordon Cooper, who to tell the truth had already used theirs omega speedmaster (purchased privately though), in Mercury space flights in 1962.
Without forgetting that the first real wristwatch in space was a Russian Airplane Arrow of the cosmonaut Alexei Leonow: on March 18, 1965, the Russian was the first person to float freely in space outside the spaceship.
However, the engineers of the NASA after the tests suggest some improvements for theomega speedmaster: the external frame or tachymeter scale, it is better if replaced by a rotating ring of 24 hours, detail already on board the rolex gmt. In addition, the meters must have luminous markings.
After the rehearsals, Helmut A. Kuehnel NASA's flight crew operations division then applies to purchase five chronographs “immediately” Omega: objective to modify the standard models. Request that remains unheard, time is literally the enemy in this case of the engineer's desire.
Indeed the March 23, 1965, just five days after the Russians mentioned above, the flight Gemini-Titan III (GT-3) of the United States start test missions with astronauts Gus Grissom E John Young, both equipped with one Speedmaster. The only change from the standard model is a bracelet, long and in Velcro, an essential detail for tying the watches over their thick suit to the wrist of the two astronauts.
In the next mission theJune 3, 1965, called "Gemini IV", Ed White goes out of the ship for more 20 minutes with his omega speedmaster on the wrist again, complete with historical photos to immortalize everything: it's the baptism of fire!
After these tests, Omega logically decides to add on the dial Speedmaster the term Professional but not before 1966: well, everything in the past was the minimum !!
Simultaneously Omega performs an action of pure makeover with the crown and pushers on the right side of the case that are now protected by some lugs: for the first time it is Speedmaster appears in its typical asymmetrical housing shape, a shape that still exists today.
Over here? For nothing!
Waving the protectionist argument “Buy American Act”, the American Bulova presses for the NASA use their watches. But the director of operations of the flight crew, Donald K. Slayton, clearly rejected the request in a memorandum the September 26, 1967: the chronograph omega speedmaster E the only watch "Acceptable for manned space flights" E "All the tests passed plus what was demonstrated in previous flights, qualifies it successfully."
Slayton he then ends with an eloquent "... If you want to rely on any other brand, you expect costs that are" unbearable ".
To definitively stop the American patriots here is the great turning point with the flight of theApollo 11: Neil Armstrong is the first person to place his foot on the moon July 21, 1969, but without his Omega, which he leaves behind in the spaceship Eagle. Fifteen minutes after Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin exits the spaceship and, with it, theomega speedmaster thus becomes the first clock on the lunar soil.
But what they wear in the 1969 the three of Apollo 11 is one Speedmaster slightly revised, not externally but internally: the Omega 321 of Lemania was replaced by caliber 861, named Lemania 1873, the frequency rises from 18.000 vibrations per hour a 21.600. The movement remains wound by hand, the power reserve still lasts for 38 hours.
In addition to the official watch of the NASA however, some of the astronauts also wear their own private watches. The astronaut Jack Swigert, for example, who brought his own with him rolex gmt private Reference 1675 in the mission Apollo 13 April 1970.
Unfortunately, it was the mission that did not go to fruition after an explosion on board during the flight, also told by the masterful 1995 film with Tom Hanks. Upon returning the Speedmaster however, it was used to calculate the times of the critical re-entry phase into the earth's atmosphere. Omega eventually receives a special honor for the job done!
To the resumption of the missions with Apollo 14 he resumed with a success on February 5, 1971. One of the astronauts, the pilot of the lunar module Edgar Michtell, according to several sources, he has his own wrist rolex gmt private Reference 1675 throughout the mission. But the NASA excludes that it is an official watch, just like this Rolex with the hand that calculates the time zone: however, it does not have a chronograph device and therefore cannot be qualified as an official watch of the NASA.
And that's not all. Yes, because in the 1972, still under pressure from bulova and due to parliamentary questions to the United States Congress, a new stress test is launched for the watches of the NASA.
Also included are the watches of the Breitling, Rolex and of Seiko. In the meantime, Bulova has put on board its own timepieces some Swiss movements produced by Universal Genève. However, things do not change this time either because the Bulovas fail both the humidity test and the strong acceleration test. L'omega speedmaster therefore he is confirmed as the only one to pass all tests, hence the official space clock of the NASA.
Today some Speedmaster models reach extremely high values. On 15 December 2016, theThat's Christie's has auctioned a omega speedmaster in New York which is said to have been aboard Apollo 17 (December 1972). This Speedmaster, signed in the base of the Ron Evans Pilot 1 command form, was sold for $ 245,000. Finally, for older and more original pieces, the price trend clearly points upwards.