The official status of Omega’s Speedmaster Professional as that of “Moonwatch” is widely known and celebrated amongst enthusiasts and certainly by Omega themselves. Unlike many brand partnerships, the relationship between Omega and NASA has yielded real, tangible benefits, with the Speedmaster itself making appearances in each of the manned missions to the Moon, and even contributing to one of the greatest dramas of the 20th century, helping the astronauts of Apollo 13 return safely to Earth after an oxygen tank explosion two days into the mission. To gain a more personal perspective on this relationship, Omega sent us to NASA headquarters in Houston, where we had access to astronauts Jim Lovell (Gemini 7, 12; Apollo 8, 13) and Tom Stafford (Gemini 6A, 9A; Apollo 10; ASTP). We heard the first hand account of Lovell’s heroism, and the Speedmaster’s pivotal role in Apollo 13’s return to Earth.
“Houston, we have a problem.” It’s a line we all recognize, even if only out of the mouth of Tom Hanks in the movie Apollo 13. The famous words were actually spoken by Astronaut Jim Lovell on April 14th, 1970, more than three quarters of the way to the Moon, where he and crewmates Jack Swigert and Fred Haise were scheduled to explore the Fra Mauro highlands. Interesting fact: Jim Lovell actually said "Houston, we've had a problem." The oxygen tank explosion meant skipping the lunar landing – instead they looped around the Moon in order to limp back to Earth in power reserve mode. To keep the Lunar Module life-support and communication systems operational until re-entry, the module was powered down to the lowest levels possible. This placed a premium on any mechanical devices that might aid their return, such as their Speedmaster watches.
As of March 1965 the Omega Speedmaster has been “flight qualified by NASA for all manned space missions.” The watch has been present on all six of the manned missions to the Moon, making its first appearance on the lunar surface as part of the Apollo 11 mission. While speculation about Swigert’s Rolex GMT Master remains just that, there seems to be little doubt that it was a Speedmaster that played a role in the Apollo 13 mission. Never mind the fact that NASA specified that a chronograph would be needed, we now have it from Jim Lovell himself – that it was the Omega that played a role in timing critical maneuvers on the return trip.