Omega Speedmaster Watch

Half a century of adventures in space

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by Jenny Cobb, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

The only wristwatch proven to withstand zero gravity, magnetic fields, and the extreme temperatures of space, OMEGA’s Speedmaster watch was flight-qualified by NASA for all manned space flights on March 1, 1965. That same month, the watch took its first official trip to space aboard the Gemini 3. One of the most memorable moments in the Speedmaster's history occurred on July 21, 1969, when it recorded a man's first steps on the moon's surface, earning the nickname, the Moonwatch.

In April 1970, the OMEGA Speedmaster contributed to the rescue of the Apollo 13 mission. When an oxygen tank aboard the spacecraft exploded, astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert and the ship were left in grave danger. The world watched as NASA’s ground team in Houston and the astronauts worked around the clock to devise a strategy to return the men to Earth.

Nearly four days after the crippling explosion and against all odds, Apollo 13 seemed poised to make it home when Mission Control discovered something potentially devastating. The spacecraft was drifting off its correct path, or trajectory, and coming in too shallow, in danger of skipping off Earth’s atmosphere and into space forever. Mission Control calculated the precise direction and the amount of rocket thrust needed to correct the course. It was then up to the crew to make it happen, firing the rockets manually and steering the ship by watching the Earth and moon through the spacecraft windows. No one had ever done it before, but they had to take the risk. Exhausted, dehydrated, and under extreme stress, Lovell and Haise steered the ship while Swigert used his OMEGA Speedmaster watch to accurately time the critical 14-second rocket engine burn that put them back on course for their safe return to Earth on April 17, 1970.

The successful return of the Apollo 13 crew was the result of hard work, long hours, and disciplined intelligence, but more than that, it was the result of trust. Mission Control Flight Director Eugene Kranz said later, "The crew totally depends upon us to come up with the right answers. We depend upon them to provide the information and to execute . . . This relationship is absolute, absolute. Trust is really the key."

Half a century later, with 90 space flights and six moon landings to its name, the Speedmaster is undergoing a re-design in order to meet the demands and challenges of the next generation of astronauts. Primed to continue its journey in space, a watch capable of accompanying humans on a mission to Mars is planned for 2030. 

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Omega Speedmaster Watch Artifact from Houston, Texas
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