Throughout the years, we’ve all come to know the Omega Speedmaster Professional’s rich history in space exploration. We’ve seen it on the wrist of Wally Schirra, Jack Swigert, and most famously, Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 mission. What’s often overlooked is how exactly it got flight-qualified by NASA. The tests NASA put the Speedmaster through were incredibly rigorous – so rigorous that the fact it even passed makes the Omega Speedmaster Professional quite possibly the greatest mechanical tool watch of all time.
NASA’s “Qualification Test Procedures” program, lead by James H. Ragan began with a handful of watches from six different brands. Of the watches tested, the known models were a Wittnauer chronograph, a Valjoux 72-based Rolex Cosmograph, a Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute (which happened to be the first watch in space on the wrist of an American), and the Caliber 321 based Speedmaster reference 105.012. Before durability was even taken into account, NASA needed to ensure accurate timekeeping. Initial testing consisted of several hour-long timekeeping-accuracy tests while the chronograph was running. After the results were tallied up, only the Rolex Cosmograph, Wittnauer, and Speedmaster were deemed worthy of further testing.
Here’s where the intense testing comes into play – think G-Shock intense. The watches were exposed to temperatures ranging from 0°F, all the way to 160°F, with altering pressure and humidity. Once complete, the watches went under 90 minutes of decompression, 30 minutes of intense vibration, and 130-decibel acoustic exposure. Most impressively, the watches underwent several 40G shocks in six different directions. Think about that the next time you freak out after dropping your watch!
Fast forward to March 1st, 1965. All testing has concluded and the results were in. The Rolex Cosmograph’s Valjoux 72 stopped twice during testing and its seconds hand warped from exposure to high humidity. The Wittnauer’s crystal warped and released from the case during both the high pressure and decompression tests. As for the Speedmaster, it withstood all the tests and passed with flying colors. With that, Speedmasters were “Flight-Qualified by NASA for All Manned Space Missions”, and would go on to play a major role in the Gemini, Skylab, and most famously, the Apollo missions.
For Speedmaster owners, there should be a great sense of security knowing your watch can handle whatever you throw at it. Let’s be realistic here, there’s very little you can do to your watch that the Speedmaster wouldn’t laugh at. The NASA testing endured by the Speedy is a true display of a tool watch – and it leaves no question as to why the Speedmaster has stood the test of time.