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Luke Phillips
Luke Phillips

Watch DSKY 03

While great auroras can occur in any month, statistically the best displays often occur around the two equinoxes in spring and autumn. No one can predict more than 12 to 48 hours ahead (and still with a great deal of uncertainty) when a display will be visible from mid-latitudes. But watch sites such as for heads-up notices.

Watch DSKY 03


Mars stops its eastward motion this night and begins to retrograde westward for the next two months centred on the date of opposition, December 7. It then stops retrograding and resumes its prograde motion on January 12, 2023. Naked-eye Mars watchers can follow the changing position of Mars easily, using the stars of Taurus, including yellowish Aldebaran below, as a guide.

The most prolific meteor shower of the year peaks with a waning gibbous Moon rising about 10 p.m. local time (as above), lighting the sky for the rest of the night. But the early evening is dark, and with Gemini just rising we might see some long Earth-grazing fireballs from the Geminids. So certainly worth a watch on a cold December night.

April 22: Lyrids meteor shower peaks. The Lyrids is an average meteor shower, with about 20 meteors per hour at its peak seen from a dark site. Moonlight will cause little interference with meteor watching because there is only a crescent Moon that will set early in the evening. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. This meteor shower is best seen from the Northern Hemisphere although some activity can be seen from the Southern Hemisphere. Though the peak is on the night of April 22 through April 23, there are still significantly increased meteors the night before and after, and to a lesser extent for a few days before and after.

It is not difficult to understand just how critical it is to have accurate timing devices for space exploration. It's essential for navigation, just as it is on Earth, but there are also a myriad of other applications for watches, timers and clocks, for which high precision is indispensable. For the Apollo program, the most famous timekeepers are certainly the watches supplied by Omega; the Speedmaster became the official watch for manned space flight in 1965 and it has basically been in use, in one form or another, ever since. However, there were a number of other watches as well as other timing devices that were flown, many of which were essential to the success of the Apollo program, and indispensable for everything from accurate navigation, to the success of important scientific experiments conducted on the lunar surface.

For anyone with even a passing curiosity about mechanical watches, it is hard to avoid learning almost immediately that "moonwatch" is synonymous with "Omega Speedmaster Professional." The Speedmaster's story, for all that it has been told ad infinitum (and some would say ad nauseam, though to those folks I would say that a really good story is burnished rather than harmed by repetition) remains a fascinating one, for a number of reasons. Chief among them for me is that the watch was absolutely not designed with the idea that it would ever be used in manned space flight; the Speedmaster was when it launched in 1957, pitched to the public as a sporting accessory for the motoring gentleman and it was not even positioned as an aviation timepiece, much less something to be used in astronautics.

The Speedmaster in general performed admirably; the only technical issue anyone seems to have encountered during actual missions was during Apollo 15, when, during the second walk on the Moon, Dave Scott's Speedmaster had its crystal pop off; Scott wrote, in a 1996 letter, that " ... in the cabin [of the LEM] after EVA-2, I noticed that the crystal of my Omega had popped off sometime during the EVA [EVA stands for Extra-Vehicular Activity]. Therefore, on EVA-3, I used my backup watch ... it worked just fine during the even higher temperatures of EVA-3."

From a collector's perspective, one of the interesting features of the 105.012 was that it was the first model with the word "Professional" on the dial; however, as Ben pointed out in 2015, " ... we must remember that Omega produced these watches at the very same time as other references featuring symmetrical cases and 'Pre-Professional' dials. There is no linear transition with Speedmasters ... " Also of interest is that neither the 105.012, nor the 145.012, were the model tested by NASA for certification; that was the reference 105.003.

The astronauts had to return their mission Speedmasters as they were government property (you would have thought they'd let the fellows keep them in thanks for risking their necks for all mankind, but the gubmint wants what the gubmint wants, as a buddy of mine who worked for the IRS used to like to say). A number of these watches can now be seen in various museums. One of the most famous "lost" watches of all time (and certainly of the post-World War II era) is Buzz Aldrin's Speedmaster, which is very likely to have been the first watch actually worn on the Moon, as Neil Armstrong's was left behind in the LEM during the Apollo 11 EVA, to be used as a backup timer. The Aldrin Speedmaster disappeared en route to the Smithsonian Institute (as discussed by Ben in "Twelve Of The Greatest Missing Watches Of All Time," he described that watch to me, during the preparation of this article, as, " ... the ultimate lost watch," and I think you could certainly make a strong argument for the assertion) which means of course that the first actual Moonwatch has been AWOL since the early 1970s. I imagine that Omega (and NASA, and probably the Smithsonian) would love to have it back just as badly as Cartier would like to have Maisie Plant's pearls.

The fact that flown Speedmasters had to be returned means that we do not see them coming up for sale in the secondary market. In 2017, a Speedmaster flown on Apollo 7 and then stolen in 1989, was recovered, but Moonwatches that actually went to the Moon (Apollo 7 did not; it was an orbital shakedown cruise for later, full-on Moon expeditions) are not, for obvious reasons, ever available for sale.

The crew consisted of the mission's commander, Dave Scott; LEM pilot James Irwin, and CSM pilot Alfred Worden. Scott and Irwin made a total of 3 EVAs on the lunar surface; all three of which were conducted with the Lunar Rover. It was during EVA-2 that Scott's Speedmaster popped its crystal; he used his own personal Bulova watch (astronauts were allowed to bring some personal items with them, and a number of astronauts wore personal watches in addition to issued Speedmasters). Apollo 15 took place in 1971, and the next year there would be a push from American watch brands to have a second round of qualification; the brands in question included Bulova, whose president at the time was General Omar Bradley. Behind this effort was the Buy American Act of 1933, which required the US government to give preference to American-made products in government purchases (Omega addressed this by sourcing cases and crystals in the United States, and then doing final assembly and adjustment, including installation of movements, in Switzerland).

While research on the watch doesn't resolve the question of how Scott might have had the prototype a year earlier, it is also true that Scott's Bulova exactly resembles a prototype Universal Genéve chronograph which appeared at auction at Antiquorum in 1994; as far as I know, the question is still open. The original research into this question is from an article published on Worn & Wound in 2016, and which also references Kesaharu Imai's book, A Time Capsule: Omega Speedmaster. Possibly more light could be thrown on the issue through an examination of NASA inventory for Apollo 15, which verifies that the strap on which Scott's watch was eventually offered at auction was a NASA-issued item. Probably we should just ask Dave Scott.

In any event, Scott consigned his Bulova for sale to RR Auctions, in 2015, and it hammered, with buyer's commission, for $1,625,000. That is what my dear departed Dad would have called, had he been spared, a lot of simoleons, but on the other hand, it is also the first and perhaps the last time that a watch worn on the surface of the Moon will ever come up for auction; on that argument, it looks a bit of a bargain.

Probably the most unambiguous evidence of a GMT Master being flown, is in footage of Ed Mitchell prepping for flight on launch day for Apollo 14. Both still and film footage shows him putting on at least one, and possibly more than one, watch during pre-flight. In the same footage, Stuart Roosa can be seen wearing both his issue Speedmaster on the outside of his suit, and what looks like his GMT Master on his wrist. (In the same footage, at about 1:44, the prime crew is joined by the backup crew, which includes Ron Evans, who's visibly wearing two watches, one of which looks like his GMT Master).

Evans seems to have sent his personal watch to the lunar surface, for the express purpose of having a memento of the landing itself. In 2009, a freshly minted HODINKEE reported that " ... in order for this Rolex to make it to that big block of cheese, Evans placed it in his PPK ... and his two crewmates carried it down with them." Post-flight, Evans had the watch engraved, "FLOWN ON APOLLO XVII 6-19 DEC 72 ON MOON 11-17 DEC RON EVANS" to commemorate the occasion. The watch sold in 2009 at Heritage Auction Galleries for $131,450, which seems like a hilariously low price ten years down the road; one can only speculate what the hammer price would be now, but the word "more" suggests itself.

While there were certainly a significant number of GMT Masters flown on the various Apollo missions (including on all three crew members of Apollo 14, to pick just one example) finding clear evidence that any GMT Master was on the lunar surface is a bit more challenging (Roosa, for instance, was the CSM pilot on Apollo 14 so his watch, while flown, did not make it to the actual surface of the Moon). The Evans watch, in any case, is the only one which has ever come up for auction. 041b061a72


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