On Astronaut Time: Watches in Space

Before there was “one small step for a man, [and] one giant leap for mankind,” watches were already making their way toward the stars. Before the first manned space flight, both the Russian and U.S governments had begun recruiting watchmakers to develop timepieces that were worthy of tough abuse and intense flight criteria. As a helpful redundancy and measurement tool, a wristwatch could help an aeronaut—or astronaut—read and calibrate on-board flight instruments. Yes, wristwatch tech was there from underwater moonwalk tests to the moon itself; Although there’s a decent swath of watches that have made it up to space, there are a few standouts that have soared from our atmosphere to the final frontier.

The Strela:

With the “space race” in full effect Russia had already sent Sputnik 1 (the first satellite) and Laika (the first dog) into the cosmos. Being no strangers to firsts—on June 12th, 1965 Russia also claimed the first spacewalk by an astronaut. As a result, they were also the first country to have a worn wristwatch outside the safety of a spaceship. As it were, Russian astronaut Alexey Leonov took the first steps into the vacuum of space—Strela watch in tow. Branded on the dial as the “Poljot” or more commonly referred to as “Strela” (Russian word meaning “arrow”) this chronograph timepiece was ticking away while Alexey documented his stroll. His watch featured a mechanical chronograph movement, a continuously ticking second hand, and a (supposedly) white dial. The Strela was the only watch issued to Russian cosmonauts from 1950-1979. As a true rockstar of Russian timekeeping, the Strela was a bonafide space watch.

The Omega Speedmaster:

Speaking of rockstars: The Omega Speedmaster is, by plethora accounts, the most famous of the space-worn watches. This watch passed a veritable gauntlet of extreme environmental testing by NASA—which placed them above their competitors. This was no small feat considering that the competition included watch giants like Rolex and Bulova (among others). The Speedmaster, though originally developed for sport and racing in 1957, was selected by NASA for America’s first space walk. It was also selected for the most famous manned space mission in human history: the Apollo 11 moon-mission. This to the Speedmaster being the first watch worn on the moon. Furthermore, the Speedmaster was later worn on the Apollo 13 mission. With an explosion happening on-board Apollo 13, the crew relied on an Omega Speedmaster to time a critical engine burn to get safely home.

With a bold history of reliability and durability, NASA still only officially issues Omega Speedmasters on all shuttle and spacewalk missions. A particular model of note, in that regard, is the X-33—a more contemporary model of the Speedmaster.

On and Off-Duty:

Up to the present day, plenty of other watch brands have made their way into space. Some watches worth mentioning are the Breitling Navitimer; the Bulova Accutron; and from 1985-present the Sinn brand watches (the 142 being a standout model). These watches have been and are still worn on-and-off the clock by cosmonauts and enthusiasts alike. Though the original purposes for these watches tend to be more terrestrial (for aeronautics and motor sports), they often were/are reliable back-ups on special missions. Dave Scott’s Bulova chronograph watch, for example, ended up on the Apollo 11 mission. Recently, since it was not owned by the U.S. government, Dave’s Bulova sold for 1.3million dollars at auction. Not bad for a watch that was there when Scott’s Speedmaster wasn’t quite making the grade.

Even some of the most durable and dependable watches on earth didn’t always have the “right stuff” for manned space missions. The examples listed above demonstrated their worth in a time of space exploration that still persists to this day. So, keep your eyes out for these watches and other tough, dependable performance chronograph watches. Who knows, perhaps one day yours too will have a chance to travel among the stars.

Times Ticking has been in operation for more than 30 years, since 1982. We have performed watch repair for customers both locally and internationally. If it Ticks! We KNOW it! Our team of watch repair technicians have a combined experience in watchmaking of over 120 years.

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