The Moon exploration dream
Throughout the human history, both the Moon’s natural prominence in the earthly sky and its regular cycle of phases as seen from the Earth have provided cultural references and influences for human societies since immemorial time. Such cultural influences can be found in language, lunar-based calendar systems, art, and mythology, etc… The moon phase is the basis of the Oriental Lunar calendar of the East  as well as the agricultural production in the Ancient , Middle Ages  and today . Due to the closeness and visible impacts on the Earth, the Moon soon became a subject of research and study from the early days of civilization. The records show that there were first observations of the lunar cycle carried out by ancient Babylonians and Indians from the 5th century BC. The study on the Moon progressively developed from that time. Around the 4th century BC, Chinese people had recorded and provided predictions about the Solar and Lunar eclipse. At the same time, a Greek astronomer, Anaxagoras made the noticeable argument that the Sun and the Moon were two giant spherical rocks. Correspondingly, the light of the moon was due to its reflection from the sun. This outlook was very close to the modern scientific knowledge. It showed such a quite intensive understanding of the ancient inhabitants.
It was not until the Middle Ages that people believed that the Moon was a “perfectly smooth” sphere. An Italian scientist, Galileo Galilei, corrected this misunderstanding in 1969. By using the telescope, Galilei provided the first sketch of the naked-eye moon with many cliffs and “craters” on its surface “   in the book “Siderius Nuncius” . In the 1870s, these “craters” were later verified by Richard Proctor as pits formed by collisions with meteors  .
All human studies on the Moon were only at “observation” level until the mid-twentieth century as the desire for lunar exploration is limited by gravity. It must firstly “escape” from Earth before being capable of approaching the Moon. According to Newton mechanics, an object that wants to escape from the gravitational field of the Earth, it must reach an escape velocity of 11.2 kilometres per second  ). Until the twentieth century, no flying aircraft was fast enough to take objects out of Earth’s gravitational field to access and explore heavenly bodies in the space.
The robust development of aviation in the early twentieth century and the two World War brought great opportunities to realize the dream of flying into space  13]  . The Cold War inspired Space Race between the Soviet Union and the U.S led to an acceleration of interest in the exploration of the Moon. Spacecraft from the Soviet Union’s Luna program were the first to accomplish a number of goals: the first human-made object to escape Earth’s gravity and pass near the Moon was Luna 1; the first human-made object to impact the lunar surface was Luna 2, and the first photographs of the Moon were made by Luna 3, all in 1959. However, the first spacecraft to perform a successful lunar soft landing was Luna 9. Subsequent projects included controlling the Moon orbiting satellites and collecting rock samples to bring back to the Earth for research purposes. Russian’ tasks were all carried out by unmanned spacecraft.
Regarded as the main “counterpart” of the Soviet Union, Americans cannot stand outside this race. During the late 1950s, at the peak of the Cold War, the United States Army conducted a classified feasibility study that proposed the construction of a manned military outpost on the Moon called Project Horizon with the potential to conduct a wide range of missions from scientific research to nuclear Earth bombardment .
The Air Force, which at the time was in competition with the Army for a leading role in the space program, developed its own similar plan called Lunex . However, both these proposals were ultimately passed over as the space program was largely transferred from the military to the civilian agency NASA. It was NASA then conducted exploration flights leading to a landmark event in human history: Setting human footprints on the Moon, marking the glorious milestone on its mission to conquer this “mysterious neighbour”.
Under the pressure from inland public opinion due to the brilliant success of the Russians, NASA , an aerospace civilian agency founded in 1958, launched a series of unstaffed probes to develop an understanding of the lunar surface in preparation for staffed missions: the Ranger program produced the first close-up pictures ; the Lunar Orbiter program produced maps of the entire Moon ; the Surveyor program landed its first spacecraft four months after Luna 9 . At the same time, another program Apollo Program was developed in parallel to realize the landing ambition  .
The Apollo program, which lasted from 1961-1972, wasted more than $ 25 billion, including a series of both manned and unmanned flight missions on the orbit around the Earth and the Moon  . Flights performed various tasks such as checking, calibration, testing,… or landing. The mission of the Apollo Program was to approach the Moon as a final destination. The first manned flight Apollo 7 was launched in 1968 and lasted for four days . The first manned flight to the moon was Apollo 11 that launched on June 17, landed on the Moon on June 20 and returned to the Earth safely on June 24 in the same year 1969. Neil Armstrong became famous as being the first person to set foot on the moon.
Known as a global event, the moon landing was watched by an estimated 600 million people around the world. The flights also collected valuable information and samples of terrain, geology and other conditions on the Moon. However, not all of the Apollo missions were successful. Apollo 13 was forced to return to the Earth and cancelled the moon landing mission due to a failure in operation. Unfortunately, all three crew members of the Apollo 1 were torched during a prelaunch test in 1967 . That great sacrifice showed the passionate desire to explore and conquer the Moon.
The connection between Apollo and Speedmaster
For the selected astronauts joining in the Apollo program, each equipment was considered carefully as it may affect both their safety and the flight’s accomplishment. The watch was one of the important pieces of equipment for astronauts. So how did NASA select watches in the Apollo program?
In fact, NASA held a competition among chronographs of some brands and manufacturers . Brands under official consideration included Breitling, Rolex, and Omega, as well as others that produced mechanical chronographs. Hamilton submitted a pocket watch and was disqualified from consideration, leaving three contenders: Rolex, Longines- Wittnauer, and Omega. These watches were all subjected to tests under extreme conditions :
- High temperature: 48 hours at 160 °F (71 °C) followed by 30 minutes at 200 °F (93 °C)
- Low temperature: Four hours at 0 °F (−18 °C)
- Temperature cycling in near-vacuum: Fifteen cycles of heating to 160 °F (71 °C) for 45 minutes, followed by cooling to 0 °F (−18 °C) for 45 minutes at 10−6atm
- Humidity: 250 hours at temperatures between 68 °F (20 °C) and 160 °F (71 °C) at relative humidity of 95%
- Oxygen environment: 100% oxygen at 0.35 atm and 71 °C for 48 hours
- Shock: Six 11 ms 40g shocks from different directions
- Linear acceleration: from 1 to 7.25 g within 333 seconds
- Low pressure: 90 minutes at 10−6atm at 160 °F (71 °C), followed by 30 minutes at 200 °F (93 °C)
- High pressure: 1.6 atm for one hour
- Vibration: three cycles of 30 minutes vibration varying from 5 to 2000 Hz with minimum 8.8 g impulse
- Acoustic noise: 30 minutes at 130 dB from 40 to 10,000 Hz
The evaluation concluded in March 1965 with the selection of the Speedmaster, which survived the tests while remaining largely within 5 seconds per day rate. Accordingly, the Speedmaster watch was chosen for Apollo astronauts, opening the legendary “Moonwatch” later. The Omega Speedmaster, a sports stopwatch from 1957 originally designed for sports racings, entered the history of the aerospace industry and was associated with Moon in such a way. Especially, All chronographs tested were mechanical hand-wound models. The reason was that neither the first automatic chronograph nor the first quartz watch would be available until 1969 after the space program was underway.
Omega always takes pride in this honour. In fact, the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch never disappoints astronauts and enthusiasts. Speedmaster is still the only watch brand that NASA has licensed for use in EVA (Extravehicular Activity)  until now.
Moonwatch was the first watch to be worn on the Moon with the landing of the Apollo 11 crew. It was worn on the hands of Buzz Aldrin, one of three astronauts. Aldrin’s Speedmaster was lost during shipping when he sent it to the Smithsonian Institution, its reference number being ST105.012. The Moonwatch models were then crafted with the words “The First Watch Worn on the Moon’’ on the bottom .
Speedmaster also had a great contribution to another mission. In 1970, the Apollo 13 suffered a serious accident and could not land on the moon as expected due to the technical failure of an oxygen tank explosion. It was Jack Swigert’s Speedmaster that was used to accurately measure the critical 14 seconds to launch a rocket that brought the crew back to the Earth safely.    With this accomplishment, the Apollo 13 crew has awarded Omega the Snoopy Award, which is for outstanding achievements related to human flight safety or mission success.  This event was conveyed in the design of some popular Speedmaster models later, including the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 13. The Jack Swigert’s Moonwatch used a Cal. 861 as a movement .
Apollo XVII – The Last Man on the Moon
Apollo XVII (using Roman numerals for this task – Nova) was the last mission of the Apollo program to be implemented.   The three crew members, Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt, took off at 12:33 pm EST on December 7, 1972. The crew returned to the Earth 12 days later, on July 19. 1972. Apollo XVII was the last flight to set human foots on the Moon and was also the last mission in which humans go further than the Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
Apollo XVII took many incredible photographs, including the “Blue Marble” that captured an image of the Earth from the Moon.
Apollo XVII also holds some notable records. It is the mission of having the longest landing time on the Moon, the longest out-of-space time, collecting the largest number of samples, and having the largest moon-time orbital flight. Particularly, the crew of three members was never a test pilot before. They merely specialized in piloting new or refurbished aircraft, a risky occupation.
Astronauts in the Apollo XVII were also equipped with an Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch. In addition, another was used by Ronald Evans for the Heat Flow and Convection Experiment. The fourth Moonwatch was sold for $ 23,900 in 2009. A collector bought the Moonwatch with a watch-strap and experiment-note pen for a total of about $ 39,000. By 2015, the trio of these items was sold in the Christie’s auction at the price of $245,000, by six times higher than the purchase price in 2009. Like Apollo 11, the Moonwatch series designed for the Apollo XVII mission use the Cal.861 movement as well.
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo XVII final lunar mission, Omega produced the Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary Speedmaster Moonwatch in an edition limited to 1972 pieces in 2012.
The bezel, with its black aluminium tachymetric ring, is mounted on a 42 mm stainless steel case and is presented on a stainless steel bracelet. At the heart of this chronograph is OMEGA’s mechanical calibre 1861, a manual-winding movement.
The bottom of the watch is sealed, engraved the Speedmaster logo of the water horse with the words “Last Man on the Moon, December 14, 1972” and “Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary” and the “Limited Edition” with the serial number of the watch in the collection.
Like other Speedmaster, the fit of this Moonwatch Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary is very good. Despite having the look of a classic “heritage”, the Moonwatch Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary does not lose the vigor and unique style of the Speedmaster series, which is for speed, exploring, and sports enthusiasts.
The unique quintessence of the Art and Engineering
What attracted you at the first sight of this Moonwatch? For me, it’s an impressive watch face that is very sophisticated and sharp. The watch face is made of silver 925  or Sterling silver, an alloy containing 92.5% silver (Ag) and 7.5% other metals, usually copper (Cu). This is also the material used to make the lapel pin (lapel pin) from the Snoopy Award. This is the right decision in selecting material to perform the carving and decoration techniques later.
The watch face is decorated with the embossed insignia of the Apollo XVII mission.This badge is also attached to the sleeves of astronauts as well as used in other decorations, such as those in medallions ( Apollo 17 Flown Silver Robbins Medallion) .
Apollo XVII was designed by Robert McCall on request from Eugene Cernan, the commander of the Apollo 17 mission. The official NASA caption to the press release photo of the Apollo 17 patch reads: “The insignia is dominated by the image of Apollo, the Greek sun god. Suspended in space behind the head of Apollo is an American eagle of contemporary design, the red bars of the eagle’s wing represents the bars in the U.S. flag; the three white stars symbolize the three astronaut crewmen. The background is deep blue space and within it are the Moon, the planet Saturn and a spiral galaxy or nebula. The Moon is partially overlaid by the eagle’s wing suggesting that this is a celestial body that man has visited and in that sense conquered. The thrust of the eagle and the gaze of Apollo to the right and toward Saturn and the galaxy is meant to imply that man’s goals in space will someday include the planets and perhaps the stars. The colours of the emblem are red, white and blue, the colours of our flag; with the addition of gold, to symbolize the golden age of space flight that will begin with this Apollo 17 lunar landing. The Apollo image used in this emblem was the Apollo of Belvedere sculpture now in the Vatican Gallery in Rome. This emblem was designed by artist Robert T. McCall in collaboration with the astronauts. This is NASA’s official description of the Apollo XVII badge.
The Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary Moonwatch brought the most highlights of the Apollo XVII Badge to the watch face. The badge was almost intact on a black and white background. Omega had the perfect choice to embellish the Badge design by using Silver 925, which allows easy and uniform embossing while maintaining the “hardness” to keep the engraved lines for the long-lasting time. When comparing images among different Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary Moonwatch models, although Omega does not provide information, it can be predicted that these patterns are created with extreme accuracy. However, when looking at the close-up shots of the Moonwatch Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary, there was an impression on my mind that Omega has added the microscopic adjustments manually so that the patterns became “incredibly lively”.
In order to create a grey colour for the background and black for the shadows, people use a common technique named sulphide .This technique uses a sulphur compound to combine with Silver to create the Silver Aggregate (AgS) which is black. The same phenomenon occurs when we use a Silver Ring on a boiled egg. Different AgS densities will result in different shades ranging from light grey to dark black. Another alternative method is to dip silver into a mixture of hydrochloric acid (HCl) and Telluric acid (H6O6Te). I’m not sure Omega has used these two techniques or any other technique but it is commendable when the lightness meets aesthetically pleasing effect and a very highly uniform standard between the different pieces in the same collection.
Some Moonwatches are designed to reveal the sophisticated movement to create highlights for the watch. The Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary Moonwatch is attracted by the “picture” on its face. Accordingly, the Cal.1861 must be hidden to avoid being compared to this “picture”. It is easy to notice that the graduation lines on the subdial hour measure (angle of 6h) and the minute (angle of 3h) is made quite simple. This makes the Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary Moonwatch difficult to be appreciated as a chronograph because it is not easy to read the counted time.
Omega probably wanted to emphasize the legacy feature of the Apollo XVII as it accepted to sacrifice the superiority of the chronograph for the carvings on the watch face. It seems that Omega regarded the Moonwatch as a painting, a masterpiece rather than a mechanical timepiece. This makes it unique and different from other celebrated Moonwatches, such as Apollo 11,  or the Moonwatch 45th anniversary of Apollo XVII.
Through the story of the Moonwatch Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary, it is necessary for us to grasp the hidden messages behind the design of this watch. Accordingly, the watch is not purely a mechanical device, it also conveys the stories and marks important milestones with each individual as well as with many countries, even with the whole mankind. That is the supreme meaning as well as the mission of the watch. The Apollo XVII 40th Anniversary Moonwatch not only commemorates a flight but also honours the human passionate desire to conquer the Moon and the vast universe.
Nova @ Novatime Lab.
This article was written in Novatime Lab’s Technical Report (Watch Research). It can be updated in the future for better quality.
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Author: Hoan Nguyen
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