July 20, 2021 will mark a special day in the history of space travel. On that day, Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, 82-year-old former Mercury 13 crew member Ms. Wally Funk, and the auction winner of the fourth seat (who will pay a staggering $28 million) will travel to the edge of space in Blue Origin’s New Shepard. Over the last two decades, privately-owned companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic have revolutionized space travel. What watch would you have on your wrist if you had the opportunity to fly into space? Read more to receive some historical inspiration.
Watches in Space: More Than the Moonwatch
Ever since we first looked up at the night sky, humankind has had a fascination with the cosmos. Space travel first became a reality when Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in 1961. Wristwatches have always been a crucial piece of equipment during space missions. The most famous is, without a doubt, the Omega Speedmaster Professional, which we more commonly know as the “Moonwatch.” But what other watches have accompanied astronauts and cosmonauts during their jaunts into the “final frontier?”
Iconic Space Watches: Yuri Gagarin’s Sturmanskie
The Russian watch factory Sturmanskie was commissioned to produce a watch for Gagarin’s mission. The result was a simple but reliable 33-mm manual three-handed mechanical watch issued to the Soviet Air Force. It performed flawlessly in the cold, zero-gravity environment of space and survived the high re-entry speed into the stratosphere. Today, Sturmanskie offers a 40-mm commemorative edition of this watch. Despite its larger size, it has the same simple, reliable design that Gagarin wore on his wrist when he became the first man in space.
Iconic Space Watches: Alexey Leonov’s Strela Chronograph
Four years after Gagarin’s successful mission, Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov performed the first successful spacewalk in 1965. He timed it with the beautiful 37-mm Strela Chronograph worn on the outside of his spacesuit. The spacewalk did not go entirely as planned. Leonov’s spacesuit ballooned in the vacuum of space, preventing him from re-entering the Voskhod 2 spacecraft. After opening a valve to release some of the pressure, he was barely able to make it back inside. The watch, however, performed perfectly, solidifying the chronograph’s place in space history. It’s still available in an updated version to this day.
Iconic Space Watches: Scott Carpenter’s Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute
Scott Carpenter became the first NASA astronaut to wear a wristwatch in space during the Mercury-Atlas 7 mission in 1962. Before him, the legendary John Glenn had worn a Heuer stopwatch. While flying the Aurora 7 spacecraft, Carpenter had on a Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute that he had personally requested from the company. Carpenter first encountered the Navitimer during his pilot days on a mission in Australia and became enamored by its looks. After requesting the watch, Breitling modified the design of the regular Navitimer, fitting it with a special 24-hour dial. And why is it named the “Cosmonaute?” Well, Breitling is located in the French part of Switzerland, and cosmonaute is the French word for “astronaut.”
Iconic Space Watches: The Seiko 6139 “Pogue” Chronograph
As part of the NASA Skylab 4 mission crew in 1973, Colonel William Pogue wore a colorful Seiko ref. 6139 chronograph. Introduced in 1969, the Seiko 6139’s movement was one of its first automatic chronograph calibers. It powered the watch with its hallmark bright yellow dial and the red and blue bezel that, combined with its characteristic case shape, have made it an icon. With Pogue donning it for the 84-day mission, the timepiece has taken its place in horological history as the Seiko 6139 “Pogue.” A lesser-known fact is that Commander Gerald P. Carr wore a Movado Datron HS360 automatic chronograph during that same mission. Together, these two watches became the first automatic chronograph “duo” in space.
Iconic Space Watches: Fortis B-42 Cosmonauts Chronograph
Although Fortis is not the most well-known brand among the general public, it’s rather famous among pilot’s and space watch enthusiasts. The brand provided Russian Roscosmos cosmonauts with their iconic Cosmonauts Chronograph for missions to the MIR space station. The original 38-mm chronograph looked great with its brushed steel case and clean dial design and was known for its sturdy build quality. In 2003, Fortis updated the initial Cosmonauts Chronograph to the B-42 Cosmonauts Chronograph. Cosmonauts have worn the updated B-42 on several missions to the ISS. This watch was specifically developed for space travel in collaboration with Russian cosmonauts, placing it in elite company with the Speedmaster X-33, the only other timepiece specifically designed for operation in space.
Iconic Space Watches: Reinhard Furrer’s Sinn 140
The German brand Sinn is renowned for producing excellent timepieces. Former pilot Helmut Sinn founded this Frankfurt-based watch company in 1961. Today, the brand has quite a few brilliant pilot’s chronographs in its catalog. One special model is the Sinn 140 worn by German astronaut Reinhard Furrer during the D1 Spacelab mission in 1985. An updated version of this watch is still part of Sinn’s modern collection. Both the original and current models stand out with their cushion-shaped cases with a hard black coating that gives them a sleek appearance. The watch’s bright red accents provide a pop of color while also adding functionality. Fun fact: Furrer’s timepiece was his personal acquisition; the mission didn’t provide it.
Iconic Space Watches: Dave Scott’s Bulova Lunar Pilot
The story of the Bulova Lunar Pilot is a special one. Dave Scott, commander of 1971’s Apollo 15 mission, was wearing his Speedmaster during EVA 2 (extravehicular activity, a.k.a. a Moonwalk) when the watch’s crystal popped out. His backup timepiece? A Bulova chronograph prototype he had received from a friend. Scott had promised to test this watch and did so on his next lunar walk, EVA 3. The watch performed perfectly, becoming the only privately owned watch ever worn on the Moon. Bulova created a 45-mm quartz-powered re-issue of the watch, the Lunar Pilot, which watch lovers and space fans can still purchase today.
Iconic Space Watches: the Omega Speedmaster X-33 for NASA and ESA Astronauts
Omega provides all current NASA and ESA astronauts with a second-generation Omega Speedmaster Professional X-33. Additionally, all astronauts and cosmonauts taking off from Russia to the ISS receive a Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch and a third-generation Speedmaster Professional X-33 Skywalker. All three generations of the X-33 were developed in collaboration with astronauts and feature a titanium case, making them very light and easy to wear. The watches also come with a series of practical space-related functions, including a timer, mission alarm, stopwatch, and multiple time zones. The Omega Speedmaster Professional X-33 has been praised by many as the best space watch you can get your hands on.
There you have it: a list of iconic space watches, all with a special place in history. Just what will Jeff Bezos and the rest of the crew be donning on July 20th? We can’t wait to find out the answer and look forward to all of the watches making the trip into space n the future.