Four Important Watches in Space History

On the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century, the Apollo 11 moon landing, I present four watches (part of my collection) that played an important part in 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.

Poljot Sturmanski

The first watch in Space was the Pojot Sturmanski, worn by the first man in space, Uri Gagarin.

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.

Omega Speedmaster

Of all the space watches, the most famous and desirable among collectors, is this, the Omega Speedmaster. It was NASA’s official  astronauts’ issue and the first watch worn on the moon.

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

There were also some unofficial watches worn in space as a result of some astronaut’s personal preferences.

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 

During the NASA space shuttle flights of the 80’s Sally Ride, the first American woman and the youngest American astronaut, was wearing a Seiko digital as part of the Challenger crew.

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.

About robswatches

I’m a horoligical “petrol head”! I love classical mechanical watches, not because they tell me the time, I can get the time from cheap quartz watches, my computer, phone, microwave or just about anywhere. I’m interested in the movements of watches, the aesthetics of case design and their construction, the history and the simple thrill of watching tiny, beautifully finished wheels, pinions and other parts turning and oscillating and marvelling at the craftsmanship that created it.
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