Why Is There A Snoopy On The Dial?
On April 17, 1970, the Apollo 13 crew landed safely on Earth after some incredibly scary moments onboard the module. The Speedmaster played such an important role on the return trip, that NASA decided to give a Silver Snoopy Award to Omega on October 5th of that same year. Some think the Snoopy cartoon on a Speedmaster is a bit childish, but often, those people don’t know why it is there. In this article, we’ll explain how Snoopy ended up on the dial of a Speedmaster.
In 1970, NASA astronaut Thomas P. Stafford presented a Silver Snoopy Award to Omega. Not everyone realizes how important this award is. It is an award given by NASA crew to staff or contractors for their special contribution and outstanding efforts. It is actually the highest award that can be given by NASA. Besides the award certificate, there’s also the (flown) silver Snoopy lapel pin the contractor or staff receives from the NASA crew.
But why did Omega receive this highest award from astronaut Stafford (on behalf of the Apollo 13 crew)? Well, the full story can be seen in the 1995 blockbuster Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks (which we recommend watching anyway). If you have not seen the movie yet, here’s a short recap of what happened in April 1970.
After Apollo 11, the public’s general interest in the space program decreased a bit. The missions continued, though, with the goal to explore the Moon and bring back some samples from the lunar surface. The objective of Apollo 13 was to explore the Fra Mauro formation on the Moon. However, the crew (Lovell, Haise, and Swigert) didn’t get that far. Onboard the service module, 200,000 miles away from their homes and families, an accident happened.
Damaged wire insulation caused an explosion, which resulted in the contents of both oxygen tanks venting into space. Without oxygen, which was needed both for the astronauts to survive and for generating electric power, the Apollo 13 spacecraft wasn’t exactly a place you wanted to be. With the help of the ground crew, the Apollo 13 astronauts were able to execute a working solution (which included the use of duct tape) that would give them the opportunity to at least return home safely.
The Return of Apollo 13
The Apollo 13 crew needed the Omega Speedmaster to time the ignition of the rockets both to shorten the estimated length of the return to Earth and to decrease speed, raising the angle of the flight path for re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. This 14-second operation was crucial since any mistake in the timing could have led to an incorrect angle of entry and, as a result, a potential disaster for the crew.
Why the Speedmaster?
We hear you! Any watch could have timed the 14 seconds. But that’s not entirely true, of course. The Omega Speedmaster was the only watch that passed all NASA’s stringent tests in 1965. No other watch still worked after NASA put it on the stand, only the Speedmaster. The Longines-Wittnauer 235T and Rolex 6238 chronographs didn’t pass. Neither did the watch that Bulova later submitted. The Speedmaster is the only chronograph the Apollo 13 crew could rely on for this apparently easy task — timing exactly 14 seconds. According to this overview by Robert James, astronauts Swigert, Haise, and Lovell were all wearing the Omega Speedmaster Professional 105.012.
Snoopy “Eyes on the Stars”
But Snoopy is a comic-strip character. Why would NASA use a comic character for the most important honor that a crew can award personnel or contractors? You might know a thing about the Apollo missions already. But did you know that NASA chose the famous beagle in 1968 as an icon to act as a “watchdog” over its missions? Also in 1968, NASA decided to use a sterling silver Snoopy pin as a sign of appreciation to NASA employees and contractors. The award also included a commendation letter and a signed and framed Snoopy certificate.
Each of the sterling silver Snoopy lapel pins has been flown during a NASA mission. Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, who created the “Peanuts” comic strip, was a supporter of the Apollo missions and agreed to let NASA use “Snoopy the astronaut” at no cost. He even drew the Snoopy figure for the sterling silver lapel pin.
Speedmaster Snoopy Award 3578.51 (2003)
For some weird reason, 33 years after Omega received the Silver Snoopy Award from NASA, the brand introduced the Speedmaster Professional Snoopy Award. Omega used the standard Speedmaster Professional and put the Snoopy Award logo on the sub-dial at 9 o’clock. On the backside, there’s the same logo covering a sapphire crystal. Omega produced this 2003 Snoopy Award ref. 3578.51 as a limited edition (limited to a substantial 5,441 units, but limited nonetheless). This number, 5441, is referring to the 142 hours, 54 minutes, and 41 seconds that the mission lasted. Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch, but Omega had to come up with something (you can read an in-depth article on this watch here).
Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award 3220.127.116.11.04.003 (2015)
Next was a move that bit more sense. In 2015, 45 years after Omega received the silver lapel pin and certificate, the brand came up with another Speedmaster Snoopy Award watch. The reference 318.104.22.168.04.003 (click here for an in-depth article) was limited to 1970 pieces only, commemorating the year of the Apollo 13 mission and the award given to Omega. This watch was a “life changer” for Omega and the Speedmaster, you could say. The watch sold out in a flash and became unobtainium due to the limited amount (again, just 1970 pieces) and incredibly high asking prices.
Today, these watches sell for many times the original price of €6,000. On the backside of the watch, there’s a reproduction of the Snoopy lapel pin in sterling silver. On the dial, you’ll find the dog on the 9 o’clock sub-dial with a few references to the Apollo 13 mission (“What could you do in 14 seconds?” and “Failure is not an option”).
Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award 50th-anniversary edition (310.32.42.50.02.001)
In 2020, Omega introduced the Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award 50th-anniversary edition with an automaton on the case back. By pressing the chronograph start button, the module with the famous beagle on board can be seen flying in space. The module is attached to a transparent hand, that is connected to the chronograph seconds hand. The Earth revolves as well, as it is geared to the running seconds hand. This explains why the production of this watch is not as easy as the regular Moonwatch and why it takes time to deliver them to the boutiques.
Since 2020, Omega has stopped doing limited editions. Therefore, just like the Speedmaster Calibre 321, this Silver Snoopy Award 50th-anniversary edition is part of the regular collection. The demand is so incredibly high, though, that it might take a long time before you get yours. It took a year and a half for me to receive mine, and I ordered it on the day of release. So in the end, it will come. The retail price of this watch is €10,200 (including VAT).
Speedmaster Snoopy in Space
Eytan Stibbe, a former fighter pilot, businessman, and actually the second Israeli astronaut (the first was Ilan Ramon) , is currently onboard Axiom Mission 1. This mission took off on April 8th and will return on April 20th, and it docked at the International Space Station. Together with astronauts Connor, Pathy, and López-Alegría, Stibbe will perform approximately 25 research experiments onboard the ISS. Professional watch spotter and friend of Fratello Nick Gould found out that Eytan Stibbe is actually wearing the latest Omega Speedmaster Professional Silver Snoopy Award. And that’s very fitting, as he’s wearing the Speedmaster Snoopy on the same dates as the Apollo 13 mission took place. I’ve checked with the folks at Omega HQ, and they indicated that astronaut Stibbe did not receive the watch from them. So it seems that the Snoopy is his private choice and purchase.
Are you fortunate enough to own any of the Speedmaster Silver Snoopy Award models? And if not, are you on the list for the current edition? If so, sound off in the comments below.