Omega watches have an enviable reputation as a watch that is rugged enough to go in to space. The watches accompanied American astronauts on their Apollo and Saturn missions and the brand is still in orbit today aboard the International Space Station.
The first watches in space
Omega did not put the first watch in to space however, that honour goes to a more anonymous Soviet watch manufacturer known as the ‘First Moscow Watch Factory.’
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin would have been supplied with a First Moscow Watch Factory Sturmanskie upon graduation from Orenberg, but it is doubtful that he would have received the Sturmanskie he wore into space at that time.
Most likely, he would have been awarded a 15 jewel watch, very similar to the one he wore in space but lacking some of the newer features that were unavailable at that time.
When, on June 12, 1965, Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov left his spacecraft to become the first astronaut ever to make a space walk, he was wearing the same watch that many cosmonauts would use on missions; a Strela.
The watch was branded as Poljot, Sekonda, or even simply Strela, and came in various designs and face colours. It is believed Leonov wore a white faced Strela for his historic spacewalk.
Omega Watches in space
The Omega gained the name the ‘Moonwatch’ due to NASA’s initial practice of letting astronauts choose their own watch. Ed White made the first American space walk during the Gemini 4 mission with a Speedmaster strapped to the outside of the sleeve of his space suit. The watch was attached via a long nylon strap and secured with Velcro.
The Omega watches Speedmaster was not originally designed for space exploration. Its origins lie in the company’s 1957 range where it was intended as a sport and racing chronograph. To ensure it would meet the demands of spaceflight the agency put the Omega watches Speedmaster model through its paces.
The timepiece was subjected to a barrage of tests including a process of temperature cycling in a near-vacuum with fifteen cycles of heating to 71° C for 45 minutes. This was followed by cooling the watches to a temperature of -18° C for 45 minutes. The watch was subjected to six separate 40 G shocks from different directions and a test where the watch was subjected to 95% humidity for a period of over 250 hours.
The mechanical Speedmaster (quartz and automatic watches were not available until 1969) survived the tests while remaining largely within its intended five seconds per day accuracy rate.
Omega on the moon
Following the selection, Omega began to use the “Professional” appellation for existing Speedmaster models manufactured after the launch of Gemini 4. Speedmasters continued to be used throughout the remainder of the Gemini programme and the early manned Apollo mission. They finally reached the lunar surface on the arm of the second ‘Man on the Moon’ Buzz Aldrin.
Although Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong was first to set foot on the moon, he left his Speedmaster inside the Lunar Module as a backup to the crafts electronic timer which had malfunctioned. Aldrin wore his watch strapped onto his right wrist around the outside of the spacesuit.
Omega Speedmasters were carried by the crews of all subsequent Apollo missions, including American members of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (The Soviet crew also wore an Omega watch, but their choice was the Flightmaster model)
Omega still in space
Even with the American Space Programme currently on pause following the decommissioning of the Shuttle programme, the classic watch brand continues to see service in space. The watches are recognised as the official watch of the International Space Station (ISS).