July 20 marks the 49th anniversary of one of the most exciting events in the history of mankind: the first manned flight to the moon. This is also an important date for watch lovers, as there was an Omega Speedmaster on the astronauts' wrists. Read on and learn about the history of space watches and the top 5 watches for travel on the Space Shuttle.
The companions of the Apollo astronauts
As the race between the Soviet Union and the United States for the moon approached, NASA employee James H. Ragan was looking for timepieces that would survive the hardships of space adventures. In addition to the Omega Speedmaster, chronographs from Rolex and Longines were also tested. In particular, the watches had to withstand strong accelerations, temperature fluctuations and pressure changes. Only the Speedmaster passed the tests. Thus it became part of the official equipment of the NASA astronauts in an era in which time measurements and calculations were still carried out with mechanical watches. Since the first moon landing on July 20, 1969, the Omega Speedmaster has been known as the Moonwatch and a legend among watch lovers. Both Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong wore a Speedmaster when they entered the surface of the moon in 1969.
Astronauts still use the Moonwatch in their missions today. In order to operate the space watch, it is worn over the space suits with a 64-centimetre-long Velcro strap. In addition to the classic Moonwatch, the Omega Speedmaster Professional X-33 is also certified for use in space. The X-33 is a quartz-powered analogue watch with a display on the dial, developed in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA). Alarm functions, chronograph and countdown functions as well as a perpetual calendar can be called up via the display.
Top 5 watches for space travel:
1. Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch
The Omega Speedmaster Professional remains the most important moon watch and the model most closely associated with the Apollo adventures. Due to its use during the first moon landing of the Apollo 11 crew and its long history, the Moonwatch has been an integral part of space history. In recent decades, the Speedmaster has undergone only cautious further development. The current model also has all the characteristics of the original model and those worn during the Apollo 11 mission. Also the current reference of the Moonwatch still has a plexiglass and a hand-wound movement and is best suited for space applications.
2. Omega Speedmaster Apollo XI 25th Anniversary
In 1994, Omega launched the Speedmaster Apollo XI 25th Anniversary to mark the 25th anniversary of the legendary Apollo 11 mission. At first glance, the special edition - limited to 2,500 copies - shows no differences to the conventional Moonwatch, but a glance at the left side of the case reveals an engraving ("APOLLO XI 1969-1994). The Special Edition was built by Omega to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the most important moon mission. Some details have changed over time, but the Apollo XI edition still has tritium luminous mass on the dial and a box clasp with a rectangular Omega logo and a simple Speedmaster logo. Omega gave us another gem in this year’s Baselworld, where we were introduced to the Apollo 8 tribute - The Speedmaster “Dark side of the moon” Apollo 8. With its magnificent skeletonised dial and laser-ablation, you won’t be exaggerating when you say that you are truly wearing the moon on your wrist.
3. Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute Chronograph
The Cosmonaute edition of the Breitling Navitimer features a central 24-hour display in contrast to the conventional 12-hour time display. This makes it possible to see the exact time at the first glance. Especially in the depths of space, where a glance out of the windows of the spaceship reveals only the deep black darkness of the universe, such a watch helps with temporal orientation. The legendary American astronaut Scott Carpenter has already worn the Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute Chronograph on his wrist during the first Mercury manned space program. A practical choice, because in addition to the 24-hour display, the Navitimer has a complex slide rule that can be used to perform demanding mathematical calculations on the wrist.
4. Zenith El Primero
Wristwatches from Zenith are also suitable for extraterrestrial expeditions. When the Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner made a parachute jump from the stratosphere at 39 kilometres and reached a speed of 1357.6 km/h in free fall in 2012, he wore a Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th. To increase the robustness of the watch, the glass back was replaced by a stainless steel back before the jump. As the name suggests, the watch is a chronograph with flyback complication and the possibility to stop the time to a tenth of a second.
5. Breitling Aerospace
Breitling Aerospace is a must when it comes to watches specially designed for aeronautical applications. This doesn’t really surprise us, as the Aerospace lives up to the motto of the manufacturer, "Instruments for Professionals", through and through. Like the Omega Speedmaster Professional X-33, the Aerospace also has a display on the dial with a variety of chronograph functions (including split time measurement and flyback function) as well as a perpetual calendar which can be called up. Breitling Aerospace is also available as an emergency version with dual-frequency transmitter, which emits warnings and leads home guidance and rescue operations to ensure maximum safety in emergencies.
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