Since the very beginnings of space exploration, the OMEGA Speedmaster has been the only timepiece flight-qualified by NASA for extra-vehicular use on manned space missions. Snoopy has also been linked with space for over three decades: the Apollo 10 lunar module was called Snoopy and the popular cartoon dog was chosen as the emblem for NASA’s most prestigious award. OMEGA now presents a special limited-edition Speedmaster Professional chronograph in recognition of having itself received the Snoopy Award.
People have always liked to read what Snoopy had to say and his popularity at the time of the Apollo lunar program had already been confirmed by the Apollo 10 crew, who had named their lunar module after him and their command module after Snoopy’s human pal Charlie Brown. Snoopy was therefore chosen as the watchdog for NASA’s prestigious manned flight awareness award because he was a character that everyone could associate with. The “Silver Snoopy” is still awarded today, both to individuals and companies for outstanding efforts that contribute to the success of human space flight missions.
The coveted award comprises a sterling silver pin, which has flown aboard the Space Shuttle, in the form of Snoopy wearing a space helmet and space suit. Recipients are also presented with a certificate and a letter of commendation, personally signed by an astronaut, citing the astronauts’ appreciation of their outstanding performance. OMEGA received its Snoopy Award on 5 October 1970 in recognition of the crucial role that its Speedmaster chronograph played on the Apollo 13 mission. Individually signed by each of the three crew members, the certificate reads as follows:
“For dedication, professionalism and outstanding contributions in support of the first United States Manned Lunar Landing Project Apollo The NASA Astronauts team recognizes the achievements of OMEGA Watch Company Switzerland.”
Apollo 13 was to have been the third mission to land on the Moon, but an explosion in one of the oxygen tanks crippled the spacecraft during flight and the crew were forced to orbit the Moon to place the spacecraft on a free-return trajectory which would take them back to Earth. In order to conserve power for the return to Earth, the module was powered down except for environmental control. As such, the only functioning timing device on board was the OMEGA Speedmaster, which the crew relied on to perform two operations: firstly to time ignition of the rockets to shorten the estimated length of the return to Earth and secondly to time ignition of the rockets to decrease speed and raise the flight path angle for re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. This second operation was crucial, since any mistake in the timing could have led to an incorrect entry angle and, as a result, potential disaster for the crew.
At the time OMEGA received the Snoopy Award, a record 450 Speedmaster chronographs were being produced each day. Thanks to its unique space-proven pedigree, the Speedmaster remains as popular today as it did then. The classic Moon Watch retains the same look it had at the time of the Apollo programme – a polished stainless steel case with tapered and facetted lugs, steel bezel with black aluminium ring and tachometer scale and hesalite crystal. The matt black dial is also typical of the Speedmaster, together with the luminous hands and hour markers and 1/5th of a second graduations for the chronograph. As it was originally supposed to fulfil a remit for a “robust and reliable” chronograph, the Speedmaster also has a screw-in case back that ensures it is water resistant to 30 metres.
The movement in the Speedmaster Professional also remains the same, with the exception of certain improvements to bring it in line with the latest technical standards. This is hardly surprising, since the original calibre 861 is one of the masterpieces in watchmaking history. The fact that the Speedmaster Professional is still today flight-qualified by NASA and chosen for the same purpose by the Russian space agency, despite great leaps in progress since the era of the first Speedmasters, is testament enough to the extraordinary reliability of this movement. The current derivative in the Speedmaster Professional is OMEGA calibre 1861, a manual-winding chronograph movement with a power reserve of 45 hours. The hand-wound movement is perfect for use in outer space, since, unlike self-winding movements, it does not rely on the force of gravity (absent in the vacuum of space) for winding.
The limited-edition Snoopy Award version of this watch has the award patch inset in colour into the continuous seconds counter at 9 o’clock on the dial. The same colourful design, with its “Eyes on the Stars” motto, is reproduced on the watch’s special case back. A striking effect is achieved by both etching and painting the emblem on to a sapphire crystal case back, which adds an extra dimension to the colours against the light. This highly collectable timepiece is available exclusively in stainless steel with a stainless steel bracelet and production is limited to 5441 numbered pieces, with the unusual number reflecting the elapsed time of the Apollo 13 mission: 142 hours, 54 minutes and 41 seconds.