Golden Moments: Omega Marks 50th Year of Its Historic Skyrocket to Fame
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.
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.
"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.
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."
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.
"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 email@example.com; visit www.omegawatches.com
- Words Franz Sorilla IV
- Images (Watches and Event) Courtesy of Omega
- Images (Moon landing) Courtesy of NASA from nasaimages.org