Saved by the Balance: A Watch
That Brought Astronauts Home
image source: http://www.omegawatches.com/planet-omega/space/
Watch spotting makes a great parlor game, Whether singers, actors, athletes, or corrupt Russian politicians whose trove of ticking finery sometimes pop up in arrest footage, one can choose many kinds of individuals whose timepieces are fun to identify and analyze.
Watches worn by movie stars are, of course, noteworthy. Although some timepieces on the silver screen are hardly identifiable and appear to have no special significance, others feature so prominently that they become a crucial part of a hero’s image or even ascend to the level of a pivotal plot element. In the next couple of articles we will look at some timepieces that have had important cameos in movies about space exploration.
One of the most dramatic moments in space travel history—both real and cinematic—is surely the 1970 incident with Apollo 13, dramatized in the eponymous movie by Ron Howard starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton. As the mission manned by James Lovell, John Swigert, and Fred Haise was nearing the moon, an explosion in one of the oxygen tanks crippled fuel cells and left the craft with only the command module’s limited-duration battery power and water. The lunar landing was obviously aborted, and even the safe return of the crew no longer seemed certain.
To conserve power for the crucial reentry stage, the command module was shut down and the crew was moved to the lunar module, its “lifeboat.” The astronauts and the flight controllers acted with remarkable ingenuity and precision, but a small course correction was still required after the craft flew around the moon and was on its way to the Earth. Because the navigation systems were down and could not be powered up for fear of wasting precious battery charge, the crew had to time the engine burn with a wristwatch—none other than an Omega Speedmaster, the famous Moonwatch, which had been approved by NASA in 1965.
The 1995 movie meticulously reproduces this miraculous tale of survival against all odds, so the Omega Moonwatch gets considerable airtime. A curious bit of trivia: the phrase “Houston, we have a problem,” popularized by Ron Howard’s creation, is actually a misquotation. Apparently, James Lovell used the present perfect tense, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
Omega’s contribution to the success of the rescue operation did not go unnoticed, and the Swiss company received a Silver Snoopy award, which NASA gives to its employees and contractors for outstanding achievements in human flight safety. This year, Omega released a special model titled Speedmaster Apollo 13 Silver Snoopy Award in a limited edition of 1970 pieces. The most prominent distinguishing features of the watch are the outline of a sleeping Snoopy on the seconds subdial at 9 o’clock and an unusual case back. Protected by a domed sapphire glass, it sports a sterling silver Snoopy in a space suit frolicking against the backdrop of blue enamel with hand-applied silver flakes.
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