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Watches JewelleryGolden Moments: Omega Marks 50th Year of Its Historic Skyrocket to Fame

Golden Moments: Omega Marks 50th Year of Its Historic Skyrocket to Fame

Golden Moments: Omega Marks 50th Year of Its Historic Skyrocket to Fame
By Philippine Tatler
May 14, 2019
As the Swiss brand's claim-to-fame as the first watch worn on the Moon, Omega hosts a star-filled tribute to the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing with George Clooney and an impressive lineup of NASA veterans; including Charlie Duke and Thomas Stafford

July 21, 1969. 02:56:15 UTC | The world stopped as everybody gathers around televisions and radios to witness the historic first steps of mankind onto the moon. 600 million people were watching, holding their breaths to listen carefully to the descriptions of the moon by Neil Armstrong. Before stepping off the ladder, he described the lunar surface as "very fine-grained" and "almost like a powder." 

That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

- Neil Armstrong

On the 16th of July, the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle was launched into space from the Keneddy Space Centre in Florida. The three astronauts, namely Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, were each wearing Omega Speedmaster, which was instrumental to the calculations made before, during, and after the famed lunar exploration. It all started five years earlier, when NASA's program office had gone in search of one watch that it could rely on for all manned-missions. Flight Crew Operations Director Deke Slayton issued a request for wrist-worn chronographs from different watch manufacturers around the world. Several brands, including Omega, submitted their timepieces for the punishing tests—but only the Omega Speedmaster survived. As a result, it was declared "Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions" on the 1st of March 1965.

In November 1969, just four months after the Apollo11 landing, a unique OMEGA Speedmaster waslaunched to celebrate the mission's success. Thiswas the brand’s first numbered edition Speedmasterand only 1,014 pieces were produced between1969 and 1973. Numbers 3 – 28 and 1001 – 1008were gifted to NASA’s serving astronauts and thewatch has become a highly sought-after timepiecein OMEGA’s famous collection.This year, we are revisiting that golden design, witha Limited Edition of 1,014 pieces. It carries many ofthe same historical touches as the original, but alsointroduces some pioneering features of its own.
In November 1969, just four months after the Apollo11 landing, a unique OMEGA Speedmaster waslaunched to celebrate the mission's success. Thiswas the brand’s first numbered edition Speedmasterand only 1,014 pieces were produced between1969 and 1973. Numbers 3 – 28 and 1001 – 1008were gifted to NASA’s serving astronauts and thewatch has become a highly sought-after timepiecein OMEGA’s famous collection.This year, we are revisiting that golden design, witha Limited Edition of 1,014 pieces. It carries many ofthe same historical touches as the original, but alsointroduces some pioneering features of its own.

03:15:16 UTC | Not long after Neil Armstrong, it was Buzz Aldrin who next stepped onto the moon. He described the view as "magnificent desolation" and even enjoyed some two-footed kangaroo hops in the low-gravity environment. In total, the first moonwalk lasted 2 hours and 36 minutes.

It was during this historic time that Earth’s most famous chronograph - the OMEGA Speedmaster - became the first watch worn on the moon. By 1969, NASA had adopted the most recent versions of the Speedmaster, including the ST 105.012 and ST 145.012. It was these two models that were worn by the Apollo 11 astronauts during the mission.

 

BUZZ ALDRIN: "We suited up, marched out, got in the vanand waved to people. And then we went up theelevator. My crewmates went in and I stood outthere for maybe five, ten minutes – it seemedlike quite a while – all by myself, looking outand seeing the sun come up and the wavescome in, and the frost come off the rocket. Iconsciously said to myself, I want to rememberthis moment."
BUZZ ALDRIN: "We suited up, marched out, got in the vanand waved to people. And then we went up theelevator. My crewmates went in and I stood outthere for maybe five, ten minutes – it seemedlike quite a while – all by myself, looking outand seeing the sun come up and the wavescome in, and the frost come off the rocket. Iconsciously said to myself, I want to rememberthis moment."
CHARLES DUKE: "You can image the tension in MissionControl during the Apollo 11 landing. It wasgoing through the roof. Everybody was gluedto their consoles, listening to Buzz as he wastalking them down. It got very very tense inMission Control."
CHARLES DUKE: "You can image the tension in MissionControl during the Apollo 11 landing. It wasgoing through the roof. Everybody was gluedto their consoles, listening to Buzz as he wastalking them down. It got very very tense inMission Control."
THOMAS STAFFORD: "When we were 40 to 50 thousand milesout, we could see just a little eclipse of it.And then later, the sun went down and it wasjust a black place in the sky. All the starswere around us. And then the Earth wentdown, Earth disappeared. So there we werein blackness and suddenly, about a minutebefore the time to turn on the engine, themoon just appeared right underneath us. Itwas an unforgettable experience."
THOMAS STAFFORD: "When we were 40 to 50 thousand milesout, we could see just a little eclipse of it.And then later, the sun went down and it wasjust a black place in the sky. All the starswere around us. And then the Earth wentdown, Earth disappeared. So there we werein blackness and suddenly, about a minutebefore the time to turn on the engine, themoon just appeared right underneath us. Itwas an unforgettable experience."

"It’s very important to stay on time according to your checklist. Also, during the rocket engine firing, you need to time the firing to the second. So a watch is very important," says General Charles Duke, who served as a member of the astronaut support crew for Apollo 10, as well as the CAPCOM for Apollo 11. It was during this mission that he uttered the famous words, "you got a bunch of guys about to turn blue" after the crew had confirmed landing on the moon.

17:54:00 UTC | On the 22nd of July, after more than 21.5 hours on the lunar surface, Armstrong and Aldrin lifted off in Eagle's ascent stage carrying 21.55 kilograms of moon samples. They eventually reached Columbia in lunar orbit, along with Michael Collins, who had been waiting for them while flying solo around the moon. Collins later said, "Not since Adam has any human known such solitude."

The journey home, however, was not a farewell for the Speedmaster! The watch returned to the moon for all of the future lunar landings. This included Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17. To this very day, only 12 men have walked on the moon, yet the Speedmaster has been there for every step.

THOMAS STAFFORD: "Time is the basis of the flight plan and trajectory. I carried two OMEGAs. One onMission Elapsed Time and one on Houstontime." Lieutenant General Thomas Stafford was a member of the crew on four historic NASA missions in space
THOMAS STAFFORD: "Time is the basis of the flight plan and trajectory. I carried two OMEGAs. One onMission Elapsed Time and one on Houstontime." Lieutenant General Thomas Stafford was a member of the crew on four historic NASA missions in space
16:50:35 UTC | Around seven minutes before hitting the Pacific Ocean on the 24th of July, the Columbia’s drogue parachutes were deployed. When it finally landed, the astronauts were winched aboard recovery helicopters and flown to the USS Hornet where they began 21 days of quarantine isolation.
16:50:35 UTC | Around seven minutes before hitting the Pacific Ocean on the 24th of July, the Columbia’s drogue parachutes were deployed. When it finally landed, the astronauts were winched aboard recovery helicopters and flown to the USS Hornet where they began 21 days of quarantine isolation.
Saturn V
Saturn V

It was a gathering of greats at Florida's Kennedy Space Center when OMEGA paid tribute to the mission that made history.

After a day of discussions on a range of space-related subjects, media and VIP guests enjoyed a "Golden Moments" dinner served beneath the impressive Saturn 5 rocket, which was attended by George Clooney, Amal Clooney, Charlie Duke and Thomas Stafford.

Clearly proud of the Swiss brand's claim-to-fame as the first watch worn on the Moon, President and CEO of OMEGA Mr. Raynald Aeschlimann summed up the spirit of the occasion. "It's a huge achievement to land on another world. I can't think of a better reason to raise a glass in tribute."

Though OMEGA Ambassador George Clooney drew a great deal of media attention, the self-effacing actor was determined to ensure the spotlight stayed focused on his fellow guests. "It's a great pleasure to be here—and an honour. I have enormous respect for the people who made the Apollo missions such a success."

Jean-François Clervoy, Terry Virts, Nicole Stott, Thomas Stafford, George Clooney, Charlie Duke, James Ragan, Raynald Aeschlimann
George Clooney, Belkys Nerey Thomas Stafford
Amal & George Clooney
President and CEO of OMEGA, Raynald Aeschlimann, George Clooney
Charlie Duke, George Clooney
The sun was shining but the stars were out when George Clooney met Charlie Duke at the Kennedy Space Centerearlier this year. Their 12-minute OMEGA documentary is more than just a movie. It is a fascinating conversation between two men who remember Apollo 11 in their own unique ways. As the voice of Mission Control during that historic first landing, Duke’s distinctive southern drawl has gone down in history on Apollo 11’s iconic mission “soundtrack.” The NASA veteran speaks fondly of his time behind the microphone when the crew made their “giant leap for mankind.” Clooney, on the other hand, was just a boy, standing outside in his back garden, hoping to spy the astronauts through his telescope. The documentary brings both sides of the story together. The film follows George and Charlie as they make their way from the Firing Room to the Saturn 5 Room to talk space. Their discussion goes deep into the technologies, nail-biting moments and emotions of the mission. For viewers, it is an incredible insight, as well as a delight to see such a genuine friendship formed.
“Oh my goodness, I get to meet George,” says Buzz Aldrin, in the opening seconds of OMEGA’s 6-minute short film, Starmen. “Wow, you look good,” George says in response. From that moment, the two men bounce off each other with candid memories of the historic space program, as well as plenty of quick-witted humour. The Starmen documentary shows George and Buzz heading to the cinema, where they watch a historic film about the NASA missions. With popcorn in hand, they trade questions and share their own thoughts about what it meant to reach the moon. “As a kid, everything was about the space program,” says Clooney. “We ate space food sticks and we drank Tang. Everything was about the possibility of the imagination.” Buzz sums it up perfectly when he says, “It brought the world together.”
 

George Clooney was joined on stage by veteran of four NASA space missions and commander of Apollo 10 Lieutenant General Thomas Stafford, along with CAPCOM for Apollo 11 and Apollo 16 lunar module pilot Charlie Duke.

Reflecting on the pioneering spirit of the Apollo era, Charlie Duke described it as an exciting time but stressed that the success of the 1969 mission was down to hard work and commitment. "We were heading to the Moon, but we were also grounded, very realistic, and we never took success for granted, not once."

Apollo 10's Thomas Stafford talked about the "alien yet familiar" qualities of the lunar surface, and spoke proudly of his role in Apollo 11's glory. "It was a great honour for me to play my part in the successful mission that followed."

Also in attendance were Astronaut and artist Nicole Stott, NASA pilot and ISS commander Terry Virts, ESA astronaut and NASA veteran Jean-François Clervoy, and former NASA engineer and the man behind the Moonwatch, Jim Ragan.

Long before it reached the moon, the original Speedmaster from1957 was made to support auto-racing teams and engineers onthe track. For that reason, it was the very first watch to placeits tachymeter scale on the bezel. Along with the chronographfunction, this allowed racers to easily measure elapsed times andcalculate their speed. In design, these early Speedmasters featureddistinctive “broad arrow” hands; a steel-coloured bezel with a base1000 tachymeter scale; and a symmetrical case with straight lugs.Inside, each model was driven by the now-famous Calibre 321.
From 1959, the Speedmaster CK 2998 came into production. Themost notable changes could be seen in the black aluminium bezel(instead of steel-colour) and the “alpha” hands with a straight orlollipop central chronograph hand. Eventually, the “base 1000” alsodisappeared from the tachymeter scale and instead began at 500.Most importantly, this model was responsible for OMEGA’s very firstventure beyond Earth.On the Sigma 7 mission of the Mercury program in October 1962, astronaut Walter Schirra chose this Speedmaster as his personal watch—making it the first Omega worn in space
As mankind drew closer to the moon in the 1960s, so too did theOMEGA Speedmaster. When the Apollo program office wentin search of one watch that it could trust during its upcomingmanned missions, the Speedmaster ST 105.003 was the model theysuccessfully tested and qualified. In fact, it passed all of the 11demanding examinations and won the unanimous approval of theengineers and astronauts alike.In production from 1964, this model introduced the “baton” handsand was eventually nicknamed the “Ed White” model after the firstAmerican astronaut to walk in space (Gemini IV mission in 1965).
When looking at the Moonwatch evolution, the ST 105.012 marksa truly important milestone. First arriving in 1964, this modelintroduced twisted lugs and a new asymmetrical case, designed toprovide added protection for the crown and pushers. It also includedthe word “Professional” printed on the dial for the first time.A few years later, from 1967, the ST 145.012 also appeared. Smallchanges within this model included new pushers with slightly tallercaps. Importantly, it was the ST 105.012 and ST 145.012 that wereworn during the Apollo missions, including those famous astronauts who first walked on the moon!
With the introduction of the Speedmaster ST 145.022 in 1968, theMoonwatch received its first significant internal upgrade. The newCalibre 861 offered greater consistency and precision and pavedthe way for future variations. Along with this extra innovation, itfeatured a painted OMEGA logo instead of an applied one, andwas also the first Speedmaster, from 1970 onwards, to include thefamous words; “FLIGHT-QUALIFIED BY NASA FOR ALL MANNEDSPACE MISSIONS”, as well as “THE FIRST WATCH WORN ON THEMOON”. From this model, we can clearly see a direct link to theSpeedmaster of today.
Today’s Speedmaster looks almost identical to the models that NASA’sastronauts wore into space in the 1960s and 70s. Without doubt, itcombines the same pioneering spirit and distinguishing style. From1997, the models were upgraded with Luminova detailing for bettervisibility, as well as the new Calibre 1861 – built with more rhodiumplatingfor greater stability. If there’s one watch that could tie you tohistory’s greatest achievements in space, this is most definitely theone you should own. Don’t worry about going into space, you canchoose your model from any OMEGA Boutique on the planet.
James Ragan
 

"Everybody wore a wristwatch back then. But the astronauts wanted a chronograph to wear so that they could do their own timing," says James Ragan, NASA's man behind the Moonwatch. "The watch was a critical backup. If the astronauts lost the capability of talking to the ground, or the capability of their digital timers on the lunar surface, the only thing they had to rely on would be the watches they had on. It needed to be there for them if they had a problem."

During his 36-year career in aerospace engineering, one of Ragan's vital responsibilities was to test and certify the astronaut chronographs used on NASA’s manned missions, starting with the Gemini Program. These were, of course, the OMEGA Speedmasters, which Ragan subjected to 11 severe tests including extreme temperatures, vacuum, humidity, corrosion, shock, vibration, acceleration, pressure and much more. Ragan was also in charge of selecting, testing and preparing flight crew hardware for the Apollo, Skylab, and ASTP programs and a Senior Aerospace Engineer and manager in support of the Space Shuttle program.

"Even I was surprised that I could get any watches through those tests. The environments were really made for pieces of hardware that you mount on vehicles. It was difficult. It was the most extreme testing you could do to a piece of hardware."

 

OMEGA is a company of the Swatch Group, the largest manufacturer and distributor of watches and jewellery in the world. For further information, please contact: +41.32.343.9211 or email press@omega.ch; visit www.omegawatches.com

  • Words Franz Sorilla IV
  • Images (Watches and Event) Courtesy of Omega
  • Images (Moon landing) Courtesy of NASA from nasaimages.org

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