Hei alle sammen,
Needless to say, the solid construction of this watch has strongly associated it with the conquest of space.
To better understand, let’s get into the details of its official punishment : a smack on the bottom worthy of the Père Fouettard (Father Whipper), finalised for the first time around 1965.I recall that this is based on the fact that the astronauts watch was supposed to accompany them during their spacial somersault in the cosmic vacuum of the dark and ruthless space: an hostile environment reserved for teflon balls where changes in temperature and particule bombardments are frequent.
The competitors were subject to pre-selection by mean of a strict primary accuracy and timing test.
It must also be understood that the order of the tests was meticulously prepared.
Here is the ass-kicking concocted by our little NASA’s white coats: 11 elaborate tortures that would appall the biggest mouths of watchmaking.
Of course, I present them to you in an evil manner:
Final result of the tortures on the 3 watches in competition:
You’ll notice that the violent heat-strokes cause some great damage during the tests, not to mention the impact of UV under real conditions. No ozon layer or 4000-index sun cream when we float in the interstellar space…
They all look terrible, but the Speedmaster still holds up with only +6 minutes in the ribs and a general functioning that satisfies NASA. In 1972 and 1978, NASA organised two new brutal tests with, respectively, 7 and 8 tortures, all quite similar to those of 1965, not less agressive.
Several Swiss brands were contacted, but it seems like some ploiticos intended to play the card of protectionism…
The government took this opportunity to put pressure on NASA which tried, after a fashion, to introduce a Swiss-American product to the astronauts. “Buy American” is a law that has to be applied.
So, the American Bulova entered the slapping dance in order to boost the reputation of the Nation. Omega didn’t panic:they ensured that the Speedmaster was 51% American-made in obedience to the prevailing American law.
The case was made by the yankees, the Swiss crystal assembled on the top of it in the same factory and the tests conducted by a company that was still American at that time: Hamilton. The movements, the dials, the hands and the final tests were made in Switzerland. The things we do to keep our bottom warm under the Florida sun!
Let’s say Omega didn’t want to lose its contract, even if they supplied NASA with their watches for a small price, the equivalent of a few Californian peanuts: to be a winner, you have to lose something. We can’t swindle them just like that in this business: the Swiss are stubborn and they seriously brace themeselves. The tests revealed that the watches produced by Bulova were not up to meeting the challenge and ended up with 4 “heart attacks” in 1972.
this is what we call an epic fail.
In 1978, the tests were conducted for the first time in the USA and also in Switzerland by independant laboratories: yet we get the feeling that the confidence is falling as the political pressure of protectionism increases… But again, Bulova didn’t reach the level that qualifies a chronograph for the spacewalks. They were declared the losers even before the finalisation of the tortures…
It is clear that NASA’s astronauts could also chose to wear some other watches in the controlled atmospheres of their space shuttle: everyone has the right to eat their powder bag with their Rolex… But during the heroic spacewalks out of the space shuttle or the station, the Omega’s Speedmaster professional was binding.
It hasn’t lost a hair on its bottom, as it still carries the flame of the official NASA spacewalks. It’s also become a classic. It should also be remembered that the history of the space conquest is as much a competition as an intense collaboration and NASA has never enjoyed a monopoly over the wild rides, neither has Omega. For their part, the cosmonauts, who were not Russian dolls by any stretch, used chronographs produced by Strella, Poljot, Sekonda until 1979. These are Russian chronographs with Swiss-made movements.: Venus and Valjoux variants.
Later, in 1989, the Siberian bears throat cutters adopted the Speedmaster-Pro too, and then opted for Fortis around 1994.
But all this is another story..