Four Important Watches in Space History
As far as I know, there are only two items used in space exploration that is commercially available: the space pen and the various watches used.
The space pen was commissioned by NASA to be able to operate under various conditions including zero gravity. Interestingly, the Soviets didn’t worry about an expensive high tech pen; they decided a crayon would do the job!
It is fascinating to think that this story is a marriage between mechanical timepieces that had their geneses over a century prior, and the space program’s then cutting edge technology. There were no timepieces designed for the job, all that was available was the same as what the public could buy.
This was a basic, robust, hand wind watch that was a standard issue to Soviet pilots, presented to them on their graduation.
Visually, I love this watch. The dial is what really makes this otherwise ordinary looking watch stand out; large full figure numerals with black outline, long Cyrillic character branding stretching from the 10 to the 2, beautiful sword shaped hands tapering to long pointed sticks paired with a nice red sweep second hand and, best of all, an emblem of a winged bomb with a red Soviet star over it leaves us in no doubt of this watch’s military heritage.
This top quality, hand wound chronograph was selected by NASA in the mid sixties after testing several other possibilities.
The Speedmaster became nicknamed the “Moon Watch” and was not only the official NASA astronauts’ watch, it also became the official issue for the Soviet Space Agency,
In 1975, during the great diplomatic and scientific achievement of the rendezvous between the Apollo module and the Soyuz 19, there was only one item of equipment the two missions had in common. When the two modules docked and the two commanders, Tom Stafford and Alexei Leonov met and shook hands, they were both wearing Omega Speedmasters.
Seiko 6139-6002 Chronograph
One such was the Seiko self-winding chronograph that was worn by William Pogue in 1973 during the Skylab 4 mission. Pogue wore his official Speedmaster on one wrist and his Seiko chronograph on the other.
Automatic or self-winding watches rely on both gravity and inertia to function. It was unclear whether the lack of gravity in space would prevent the self winding mechanism to function but, by all reports the Seiko “Pogue”, as it was later nicknamed, did function correctly.
Seiko Digital A829
This digital was actually released by Seiko as a yacht timer and probably chosen for space because of its ease of operation, unlike all other digitals that were complicated to use.
It is not clear if this watch was an official issue or a personal preference but it is believed that it was a favourite of the shuttle crew members. This watch was also used by the ESA (Europeans Space Agency) by their astronauts and thus nicknamed the “Astronaut”
For a watch enthusiast like me there’s nothing more satisfying than having in my collection watches associated with the historical high points of the 20th century.