Monday, August 27, 2012

Neil Armstrong and his Omega Speedmaster

The world grieves the death of astronaut and legend Neil Armstrong who died this past Saturday at 2:45pm at the age of 82 from complications due to heart surgery.
Neil Armstrong will be known for generations to come as the first man on the moon.
 On July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped out of his Apollo 11 lunar module "Eagle" and onto the rocky surface of the moon uttering the iconic phrase 
 "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind ."
The timekeeper for the Apollo 11 mission was the Omega Speedmaster professional. The only watch approved by NASA for EVH or extra-vehicular activities. The watch was suitable for use outside a spacecraft. Both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were given an Omega Speedmaster for this mission.
Neil Armstrong left his Omega Speedmaster in the lunar capsule, while Buzz Aldren wore his on the moon.  Buzz Aldrin wrote about his Omega Speedmaster in his 1973 book, "Return to Earth"
"It was optional to wear while we were walking on the surface of the moon ... few things are less necessary when walking around on the moon than knowing what time it is in Houston, Texas. Nonetheless, being a watch guy, I decided to strap the Speedmaster onto my right wrist around the outside of my bulky spacesuit."

2005 Omega Speedmaster Professional - Gemini 4- First Space Walk-40th Anniversary

  We know the reason why Buzz Aldrin wore his Speedmaster on the moon. Unfortunately that particular watch disappeared in the early 1970's on its way to the Smithsonian Institution.

What is the reason Neil Armstrong left his Speedmaster in the lunar capsule?

After all, the Speedmaster was equipped to handle the unearthly atmosphere.  

Buzz Aldrin and his Speedmaster on his Apollo 11 mission
In fact, NASA had actually chosen the Swiss-made timekeeper for all its astronauts four years prior to this momentous date.
NASA did not simply pick Omega out of a hat, the Speedmaster and its rivals were subjected to rigorous testing. The watches simmered for hours at 93 degrees then were immediately frozen at - 18 degrees. The watches were steeped in pure Oxygen for two days, struck with tremendous blows, compressed then decompressed, vibrated, subjected to incredible speeds and numerous other experiments. The only watch to emerge virtually unscathed within the allowed deviations of 5 seconds per day was the Speedmaster.
Till today, the Speedmaster is the preferred choice for astronauts. The Russians too came to favor the Omega Speedmaster when they discovered the Watch in 1975 during the Apollo-Soyuz link-up.
Speedmaster professional Moonwatch Apollo 11 40th Anniversary -2009 LE
As a watch leaves the confines of earths atmosphere, it is subjected to elements never experienced on earth. The atmospheric pressure within a watch might explode as the watch experiences zero-gravity. Omega with its ingenuity has affixed a clamp ring to the glass of the Speedmaster, enabling the watch to withstand five times the amount of pressure the watch will experience in space. The internal pressure of the watch has to remain constant in order to prevent the lubricating oil ,which adheres to the moving parts of the watch, to leak, obscuring the glass and preventing the watch mechanisms from working properly. Alternatively, a vacuum inside the watch may cause the watch to run to quickly as it would prevent the balance wheel from effectively working.
Omega Speedmaster's glass is sufficiently thick and elastic to withstand the great temperature differences that occur while exiting the earths atmosphere and traveling through space.

 In addition the Watch needs to be extremely accurate as the depletion of an Astronauts Oxygen Supply occurs in minutes and seconds rather than in volume. Other Luxury Watch Companies have tried and tried again to vanquish the Omega Speedmaster, and capture the NASA contract; however, the Speedmaster has always defeated the rivals, and till today, still remains the Watch in Space.

Prior to the Speedmaster's trip to the moon, the watches were used in other space missions.  Gus Grissom and John Young wore their Speed masters on Gemini 3 on March 23rd, 1965. Ed White wore his Speedmaster 105.003 secured with velcro and a long nylon strap to the outside of the left-side sleeve of his G4C spacesuit during the first American Space Walk.

Neil Armstrong did not leave his Speedmaster in the lunar capsule as a result of the watches ineptitude, but rather as a result of its extreme integrity in harsh conditions. You see, the module's electronic counter had failed, and Armstrong left the Watch on board as a back-up.

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