The manual-winding Omega Speedmaster Professional was not originally designed for space exploration. It was introduced in 1957 as a sports and racing chronograph, to complement Omega’s position as the official Olympic timekeeper.
High performance Chronographs became indispensable to pilots, race car drivers and Submariners, who relied heavily on precision timing to clock and calibrate fuel consumption, trajectory and other variables, for what was essentially blind travel.
On October 3 1962, astronaut Wally Schirra (above) took his personal Speedmaster aboard Mercury-Atlas 8.
Later that same year, as the story goes, a number of different chronograph mechanical hand-wind wristwatches were purchased by NASA agents from Corrigan’s, a Houston jeweller, to evaluate their use for the space Program. The watches were all subjected to tests under extreme conditions: prolonged cycles of high and low temperature, high and low pressure, humidity, shock, acceleration, vibration and acoustic noise. The evaluation concluded in March 1965 with the selection of the Speedmaster, which survived the tests while remaining largely within 5 seconds per day rate. To accommodate the bulky space suit the watch used a long nylon strap secured with Velcro.
On June 3 1965 Ed White (above) became the first American to spacewalk, effectively setting himself adrift in the zero gravity of space, whilst wearing his Omega Speedmaster during Gemini 4.
July 20, 1969, at 20:18 UTC the Apollo Lunar module put the first humans on the moon. Although Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong was first to set foot on the surface, he left his Speedmaster inside the Lunar Module as a backup because the LM’s electronic timer had malfunctioned. So Buzz Aldrin's Speedmaster became the first watch to be worn on the moon. Incredibly, having travelled over half a million miles in space safely, Aldrin’s Speedmaster was lost during shipping when he sent it to the Smithsonian Institute.
In 1970, after Apollo 13 was crippled by the rupture of a Service Module oxygen tank, Jack Swigert's Speedmaster (above) was famously used to accurately time the critical 14-second Mid-Course Correction 7 burn using the Lunar Module's Reaction Control System, which allowed for the crew’s safe return to Earth.