49 years ago, the Apollo 11 was on its way to the Moon (and back), from July 16th to July 24th. Time for us to freshen up your memory (or knowledge) a bit with the verified facts around the Moonwatch and the moon landing.
On July 20th 1969, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module put astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the surface of the Moon. On July 21st, at 2:56 UTC, Armstrong set foot on the Moon and spoke his famous words. Not much later, Buzz Aldrin followed him. On his wrist, the Omega Speedmaster Professional – from that moment on, the ‘Moonwatch’.
Omega has an active museum and archives team and in the last couple of years, they have done a massive amount of research on the Moonwatch topic. A few years before the Omega Speedmaster became the Moonwatch, astronauts Walter Schirra and Gordon Cooper purchased a couple of Speedmasters for use during flights. this was in 1962 already, and both Schirra and Cooper bought a couple of Speedmaster reference CK2998 watches. the CK2998 is the second reference of Speedmaster watches, not counting some of the sub references (CK2915-1 to CK2915-3). Where the CK2915-3 can be considered a transitional model with its black bezel and alpha-shaped hands, the CK2998 was the new reference with all these features.
On board of the Sigma 7, during the Mercury-Atlas 8 mission (October 1962), astronaut Walter Schirra was wearing his Speedmaster CK2998. Schirra was the only astronaut to fly all three of NASA’s early manned spacecraft (Mercury, Gemini and Apollo). In 2012, Omega commemorated the first Speedmaster CK2998 being used in space with a “First Omega in Space” model. Today, similar models are available in Omega’s Sedna gold and as a modern reinterpretation of the CK2998 with 2016’s Speedmaster CK2998 limited edition.
Below, another image from the NASA archives where you can see Schirra wearing his Speedmaster. This picture was taken during the suiting up exercise for Gemini 6, in 1965, showing Schirra still wearing his Sigma 7 Speedmaster.
As can be seen in this excellent report on Purist Pro, there was a need for officially tested and certified watches. All equipment used on the Mercury program was being evaluated and NASA hired a team for the procurement of equipment for Gemini and Apollo missions. This included a watch suitable for training and flights of course. One of the persons that were hired for this job at the time was NASA engineer James “Jim” Ragan. Before, he was responsible for testing equipment for the US Navy’s “SEA LAB” program.
NASA’s Operation Director Deke Slayton wrote an internal memo to the procurement department on September 21st 1964, making his requirements clear for such a watch with chronograph functionality. There is a rumour going on for years, perhaps decades, that NASA just bought a couple of watches themselves from a jeweller in Houston. This is of course not the case. No, there was a procurement process, like any serious organization would have. So, Jim Ragan created a request for proposal which stated that at least six watch brands should provide chronographs for NASA’s purposes.
During our Speedy Tuesday GTG in 2013 (photo report here) I sat next to Jim H. Ragan and had a lengthy discussion with him on the topic.
On official documentation can be seen that the delivery of those chronographs should take place before October 24th 1964. That was only a month since the internal memo by Deke Slayton. Remember that it was an era without e-mail, so going back and forth with letters was already consuming quite a bit of time. To be sure, Ragan sent out his request for proposal to 10 different watch brands. Only four brands responded to NASA’s request, which were: Rolex, Longines-Wittnauer, Hamilton and Omega. Ragan still had to chuckle when he told this, but Hamilton sent a pocket watch instead of the chronograph wristwatch he asked for. Unbelievable.
Since in the end, only a few brands responded, Ragan asked all of them to provide three watches each. Omega provided NASA with their Speedmaster reference 105.003. Rolex and Longines-Wittnauer both sent Valjoux 72 based watches (in the case of Rolex, it is said not to be a Daytona).
The Speedmaster 105.003 is considered to be the third generation of Speedmasters. This can be disputed, as there was a 105.002 reference between the CK2998 and the 105.003. However, that was more of a transitional model, as Omega decided to change their reference number system. The 105.003 had a new design regarding the hands, which were now white baton ones instead of the Alpha hands. The white baton hands were more legible.
This reference is the model that was tried and tested by NASA and got eventually qualified. Or ‘Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions’, as you see engraved in the case backs on later references.
NASA designed a couple of tests for these watches, that weren’t meant to keep the watches in one part. These tests were designed to test the watches to destruction. In a relatively short period (of months), the following tests were performed on the watches:
48 hours at a temperature of 160°F (71°C) followed by 30 minutes at 200°F (93°C). This under a pressure of 5.5 psia (0.35 atm) and relative humidity not exceeding 15%.
Four hours at a temperature of 0°F (-18°C).
Chamber pressure maximum of 1.47 x 10-5 psia (10-6 atm) with temperature raised to 160°F (71°C). The temperature shall then be lowered to 0°F (-18°C) in 45 minutes and raised again to 160°F in 45 minutes. Fifteen more such cycles shall be completed.
A total time of 240 hours at temperatures varying between 68°F and 160°F (20°C and 71°C) in a relative humidity of at least 95%. The steam used must have a pH value between 6.5 and 7.5.
The test item shall be placed in an atmosphere of 100% oxygen at a pressure of 5.5 psia (0.35 atm) for 48 hours. Performance outside of specification, tolerance, visible burning, creation of toxic gases, obnoxious odours, or deterioration of seals or lubricants shall constitute failure to pass this test. The ambient temperature shall be maintained at 160°F (71°C).
Six shocks of 40 Gs, each 11 milliseconds in duration, in six different directions.
The equipment shall be accelerated linearly from 1 G to 7.25 Gs within 333 seconds, along an axis parallel to the longitudinal spacecraft axis.
Ninety minutes in a vacuum of 1.47 x 10-5 (10-6 atm) at a temperature of 160°F (71°C) and 30 minutes at 200°F (93°C).
The equipment to be subjected to a pressure of 23.5 psia (1.6 atm) for a minimum period of one hour.
Three cycles of 30 minutes (lateral, horizontal, vertical), the frequency of varying from 5 to 2,000 cps and back to 5 cps in 15 minutes. Average acceleration per impulse must be at least 8.8 Gs.
130 db over a frequency range of 40 to 10,000 Hz, duration 30 minutes.
On March 1st 1965, the tests were completed. On June 1st 1965, the Omega Speedmaster 105.003 received the official certification for use during manned space missions. According to the Moonwatch Only, the standard reference on the Speedmaster Moonwatch models (we did a book review here), the other two brands failed. The information that Petros Protopapas (Omega’s international brand heritage manager) showed during a Speedmaster event in Tokyo, shows that the Rolex failed the humidity test by completely stopping the movement and again it failed during the high-temperature test. The Longines failed the high-temperature test as well, as the crystal warped and disengaged.
At the end of March 1965, during the Gemini III missions, the new Speedmaster 105.003 was brought into space on the wrists of astronauts Virgil Grissom and John Young. Also in 1965, Edward White wore his 105.003 when performing the first American spacewalk during the Gemini IV mission.
So, the 105.003 is the Moonwatch? We are not entirely there yet. You should know that the Speedmaster 105.003 was in production for a long time, from 1964 till 1969. In the meanwhile, Omega also introduced the newer references, 105.012 and 145.012. NASA ordered their Speedmasters in four different batches, the last one in September 1968. The reason for this, is that Omega introduced the newer caliber 861 movement for their Speedmaster chronographs. This would mean the rigorous tests needed to be performed all over again.
The 105.012 and 145.012 had lyre lugs and crown guards as opposed to the straight-lugs Speedmaster 105.003. Also, the 105.012 and 145.012 had ‘Professional’ written on the dial. It is a common misunderstanding that ‘Professional’ was printed after the certification on March 1st 1965. This is not the case. Already in 1964 Omega introduced the 105.012 with the ‘Professional’ word printed on the dial.
Very important: the Speedmaster 105.003 was also issued to Apollo astronauts, as NASA had it in stock from the original procurement. It is therefor very likely, that the Speedmaster 105.003 was also used during one of the six missions that landed on the surface of the Moon.
For a long time, it was a mystery which references where exactly used during the Apollo 11 mission. Or whether a caliber 861 speedmaster ever was on the moon. In the meantime, a lot has changed and Omega did great work together with NASA. For a few years, it is known that Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin wore a Speedmaster reference 105.012 – the first Speedmaster on the surface of the moon.
Legend has it that Neil Armstrong left his Speedmaster (also a 105.012) on board of the lunar module as the (Bulova) board clock malfunctioned. Aldrin’s watch later disappeared (in 1970), when it was sent off to the Smithsonian museum.
Michael Collins, who remained in the Command Module of the Apollo 11, was wearing a Speedmaster reference 145.012. So it did not make a trip to the surface of the Moon that first time. During the third mission where astronauts set foot on the Moon, Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard was wearing the Omega Speedmaster 145.012. The 145.012 was in production from 1967 to 1969 and had a new design for its pushers. The pushers of the 145.012 were screwed into the case and had slightly larger caps. It is the last reference to have the column-wheel chronograph caliber 321 movement.
Now, you would probably like to know the exact case numbers from the Speedmaster watches of Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins. From Aldrin, it is believed to be the Speedmaster 105.012-65. Armstrong’s watch was definitely a 105.012-65 and Collins was wearing the 145.012-68 (yes, a -68!!).
Although the vintage Omega Speedmaster 105.003 and Speedmaster Professional 105.012 and 145.012 models are still available in the vintage market today, you can also decide to go for the modern version of the Moonwatch. Admitted, it does not have the column-wheel caliber 321 movement, but pays a great tribute to the Moonwatch all-together. Click the link below to find out what current Speedmaster reference is closest to the original Moonwatch.
*This article was first published in 2016, but we updated text (about the 105.003) and images.
Ever since he was a young child, Robert-Jan was drawn to watches, even though it were digital Casio and quartz Swatch models at the time. In the mid-1990s, his interest increased when he started to read about mechanical watches in... read more