Last week I had the privilege of attending the 60th anniversary festivities that Omega organized for the Speedmaster. The event, and everything around it, was nothing short of being absolutely awesome. Watches and anniversaries always stir up some emotions, and one could question whether the watches that are often discussed in this way, actually are icons. According to marketeers there are many iconic watches, however, and I hope you will forgive me, I think there are only a handful of true icons. I consider John Harris’ marine chronometers of absolute importance and iconic. I also think that the Omega Speedmaster reached an equally important, and iconic, status. It went to the moon and back, and was actually used for timing purposes on the face of the moon. The Omega Speedmaster is certainly one of the few real icons in the world of watchmaking, as it actually served in events that are greater than life. Here’s a very visual report (in the early days of internet we would call this a ‘modem burner’) of last week’s event in London.
The Omega Speedmaster 60th Anniversary event started on Tuesday, 25th of April, in London, with an informal dinner and a chance to catch up with (old) friends. The actual event, dubbed ‘Lost in Space’ was the next evening, however Omega organized activities for the guests during the day. In the morning we were first treated to a presentation by Petros Protopapas and Jim Ragan, and shortly after that we got to meet none other than Buzz Aldrin, the man who actually walked on the moon with the Omega Speedmaster on his wrist.
How the Speedmaster became the Moon Watch
For those unaware of the names Petros Protopapas and Jim Ragan, let me briefly introduce these gentlemen. Jim Ragan worked for NASA and was the person responsible for selecting the watch that was going to accompany the Apollo 11 astronauts on their mission to the moon. It is because of the procurement process that Ragan developed, and the tests that he did on the watches, that the Speedmaster became the first watch on the moon, and has been known, ever since, as the moon watch. Ragan’s role in the moon watch legacy is fundamental and of pivotal importance. Petros Protopapas is the director of the Omega Museum in Biel/Bienne, home town of Omega. Ragan and Petropapas explained more about NASA’s procurement process and how the Speedmaster became the moon watch. Three years ago we covered all this and you can read more here.
Jim Ragan (NASA) and Petros Protopapas (Omega Museum)
Using the Speedmaster on the Moon
Next up was a presentation by Buzz Aldrin. Buzz Aldrin together with Neil Armstrong, were the first humans to set foot on the moon. While Armstrong left his Speedmaster in the lunar lander, Aldrin actually wore his Speedmaster during his first walk on the moon. Aldrin showed us some photos that were taken during the mission, complete with running commentary. For instance, did you know that Aldrin took the world’s first selfie, or at least the first selfie in space, as pictured below?
The Apollo 11 mission was in July 1969 and at 20:17:40 UTC on July 20, 1969, the lunar lander landed on the moon, on the so-called Sea of Tranquility. While their fellow astronaut Michael Collins remained in the Apollo capsule, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent a total of 21 hours, 36 minutes on the moon’s surface. In total they spent 2 hours, 31 minutes outside the lunar lander, walking on the surface, taking photographs, collecting material samples, and deploying automated scientific instruments.
Aldrin spoke about the actual use of the Speedmaster in space. On the Moon: according to Aldrin the digital counter on the astronauts suit, which indicated the time spent outside the lunar lander and air used from the breathing apparatus, did not always work perfectly. A good old-fashioned mechanical backup, the Omega Speedmaster on a long velcro strap, was used by him during the moon walks. Inside Apollo 11: the Speedmaster played a pivotal role in keeping the team informed about the actual time on Earth. Mission control was in Houston, Texas, and while Apollo 11 was orbiting Earth, the three gents inside didn’t ‘feel’ day & night as we do on Earth. With the Speedmaster on the wrist it was easy to know the time on Earth, so they felt more at home, and knew when talking to mission control, who were on 8-hour shifts, who was awake and who not. The astronauts returned home safely on July 24, 1969.
Lost in Space – Omega Speedmaster 60th Anniversary
The main event was in the evening of Wednesday 26th April, however while the guests enjoyed several presentations during the day, Omega also sent out a team of astronauts into London. You can expect the weirdest things when the astronauts are on the loose…
Towards the evening, the astronauts checked in to welcome the guests of the Lost in Space event, and to show us the correct way in…
And when we were in, there still was a long way to go… into the unknown!
The night was hosted by professor Brian Cox at London’s Tate Modern, which was transformed into what could be mistaken for a big hall at NASA. Once everyone had passed by the huge table with rare and highly collectible Speedmasters, and found his or her place at the tables, we were welcomed by professor Brian Cox and Omega’s CEO Raynald Aeschlimann. Subsequently George Clooney and Buzz Aldrin came, and told the audience about how the Speedmaster became part of their lives. Shortly after the dinner was about to start, however not before we managed to open the ‘Lost in Space rescue kit’. There were several speeches during the evening, and even an astronaut flew through the huge hall. Omega put together a marvellous anniversary event for a watch that can truly be called an icon. The 60th anniversary of Omega’s Speedmaster with George Clooney and Buzz Aldrin as guests of honour at the “Lost in Space” evening, was a befitting theme which paid tribute to the Speedmaster’s unrivalled legacy in space exploration. For now I’ll let the photos do the talking…
If you want to learn more about the NASA Apollo program than you can read this Wikipedia page about the subject.
More about the iconic Speedmaster on the Omega website. All photos of the astronauts in London by Mike Marsland/Getty Images for Omega. All other photos also courtesy Getty Images for Omega.