Space Watch: What Type Of Watch Do Astronauts Wear?

space watches for modern astronauts

There’s been almost 600 astronauts and cosmonauts, also known as space travelers, that have been to space in some form or other. One thing they all have in common apart from being extremely fortunate, privileged and smart is that they all wear a space watch or two.

What is a space watch you may ask?

A space watch is like any other watch you might wear on earth. However, they do have a few key features that help space travelers perform their duties to the highest level whilst out in space. These include:

  • Highly durable, well designed and tested for the pressure of spacewalks.
  • Having a stopwatch that displays seconds, minutes and hours across 3 separate dials to show how much time has elapsed during tasks such as experiments.
  • A Tachymeter to measure the speed at which the watch’s wearer travels over a fixed period of time (i.e. how fast astronauts are traveling, in miles or kilometeres per hour. This can help them keep track of the orbit of the space station).
  • Manual Winding to ensure they don’t have the worry of running out of battery in space as well as being able to deal with the pressures of a spacewalk or landing on the moon or other planets. 

As well as having the above key features and being a tad more expensive than your average human’s watch, their main function is to tell the time just like you would expect from any good watch… or bad watch for that matter.

What time is it in space?

First of all, time is a man-made concept which means it’s whatever time you want it to be but for the ease of working together and keeping track of events during a mission, astronauts actually use Mission Elapsed Time (MET) which is basically a timer (stopwatch) set from the moment the spaceship leaves the the ground to the moment the astronaut arrives back on earth. These timers are in the spaceship. However, many astronauts also set a timer on their watch. 

As well as MET to track how long a mission has been going for, astronauts actually have two watches. One watch is set to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) also known as Co-Ordinated Universal Time (UTC) because as well as being the international standard, it is also the time zone that the International Space Station (ISS) is set to. This means that when astronauts arrive at the ISS they’re all working from one common time zone. 

The second watch an Astronaut sets their time to is Local Time which helps them stay in touch with family and friends back on Earth. Therefore, to answer the question ‘What time is it in space?’:

‘There are many times’. 

It all depends what time you need at that very moment. It might be mission control time, ISS time or the local time where you’re from on planet Earth.

what time is it

What type of watches do Astronauts wear?

This brings us to the question: What type of watches do astronauts wear to keep track of time in space?

Due to the fact that almost 600 people have been to space with many different space agencies such as NASA, Roscosmos, ESA and private space flight providers such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and others there have been many types of watches in space, especially due to the fact that astronauts wear two.

First Watch on the Moon: Omega Speedmaster “Moonwatch” in 1969

Omega Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” is the watch of choice for NASA astronauts due to its special design to cope with being in space. It is a Master Chronometer which earns that designation by passing tests approved by the Swiss Federal Office of Metrology and essentially means it’s a fine-tuned watch that keeps a very accurate measurement of time compared to most.

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch The First Watch On The Moon Buzz Aldrin

The Omega Speedmaster Professional is also the brand of watch NASA have been using as standard since 1969 when it was the first watch on the moon due to the virtue of the fact that it was on the wrist of the first man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin who was wearing it.

You may wonder why Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong wasn’t wearing a watch and the reason is because the lunar module’s electronic timer had malfunctioned so he left his Omega 105.012 Speedmaster onboard as backup. Buzz Aldrin therefore became the first man to wear a watch on the Moon.

Many men, women and billionaires have worn Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch watch to space including Jeff Bezos. However, they have in some part thanks to Wally Schirra who wore his own personal Speedmaster CK 2298 on a 1962 Mercury mission and fellow astronaut Gordon Cooper decided to mention that NASA should have a standard issue watch for spaceflight whereby NASA put many watch brands such as Omega, Rolex and Hamilton through vigorous testing to see which watch could cope with space the best.

Yuri Gagarin First Watch In Space Sturmanskie

First watch to venture in to outer space: Gagarin’s Strumanskie in 1961 & First watch on a spacewalk in open space: Leonov’s Strela in 1965

The first watch to venture in to the unknown was worn by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin on 12th April 1961. The exact model of watch he wore is in much disagreement but many people believe he was wearing the Sturmanskie watch on his wrist. Others believe it to be the Rodina wristwatch but this watch was believed to be given to Gagarin after his flight as a gift from the commander of the Air Force, Marshal Vershinin in honour of the flight of the Vostok-1 spaceship. However, Gagarin could of plausibly been wearing more than one watch in case one failed, therefore, many watches could’ve been the first in space but the one with the most evidence is the Sturmanskie which means Navigational in Russian.

However, the first watch worn in open space was actually the Strela which means “arrow” in Russian when Russian Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov wore it in 1965 on the first spacewalk which the watch would’ve timed as having a total extravehicular activity (EVA) of 12 minutes and 9 seconds.

become an astronaut

Russians cosmonauts now wear Fortis watches as their standard since the Strela was retired in 1979. The Fortis Chronograph which as well as keeping time and being a stopwatch to track different sets of time it comes with many of the same features as the Omega. It has also been designed to be scratch-resistant and able to deal with heavy knocks.

Fortis is the official Cosmonauts chronograph of ROSKOSMOS space agency. It is the first chronograph in open space and used as a timekeeper for all Russian cosmonauts on future space missions as well as many other astronauts.

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Other watches, many worn as second watches have been to space include Breitling watches worn by Scott Kelly who is a very keen watch enthusiast and brand ambassador for the Swiss manufacture. During his year in space he not only wore the Omega Speedmaster chronograph, he wore Breitling watches including the Breitling Navitimer 1461 and Emergency to help keep track of not only his 8,168 hours and 42 minutes circling the Earth but also could be used as a slide rule, calendar functions and moon phase.

Other watches such as the Sinn 142 automatic chronograph worn by German Astronaut, Reinhard Furrer was considered at the time as the first automatic chronograph to take a spaceflight on the Space Shuttle Challenger mission in 1985. However, the Seiko 6139 automatic chronograph was actually the first automatic chronograph in space back in 1973 after an avid watch collector noticed a picture of William Pogue wearing one during a SkyLab 4 mission.

The Chinese made Fiyta watch was worn by Tyconaut Lt.Col.Yang Li Wei, crew member for China’s first space mission.

The TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 1887 SpaceX Chronograph blasted off to space most recently worn by members of the SpaceX Falcon 9 crew.

First watch worn by an American to orbit the earth: John Glenn and his Heuer 2915A stopwatch

Friendship 7 and its pilot Colonel John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. During his three historic orbits around the world, Colonel Glenn had strapped to the outside of his spacesuit a Heuer 2915A stopwatch.

Backup watches on the moon: Dave Scott and his Bulova Lunar Pilot

Dave Scott was among three crew members aboard the Apollo 15 in 1971 that brought along his personal backup Bulova Lunar Pilot watch after a previous mission where his NASA issued Omega Speedmaster crystal broke off making the American made Bulova a very iconic backup watch with a very impactful history.

SpaceX watches Omega X33 Tim Peake and Chris Hadfield

European Space Agency (ESA) approved watch & the first watches worn by astronauts of a private mission to the ISS: Omega Speedmaster Skywalker X33

Tim Peak and Chris Hadfield have worn the ESA approved Omega Speedmaster X33 during their time on the ISS This timepiece has been tested and approved by the European Space Agency for inclusion in its missions and has been specially made for space explorers  As well as ESA astronauts this timepiece was chosen by the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon capsule astronauts of Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley during their historic launch of the first private company to take humans to space and the ISS.

Anna Parsec, an astronaut-in-training, founder of Astro School – the first school for astronauts, currently wears this space watch. This choice was made during her Navigation exercises flight training with the youngest UK flight instructor Kathan Dudhela from Stars Fly flying school. Anna says:

‘The requirements that rose during training were: digital to be able to read time clearly and fast, with timer to be able to time when correcting the flight course and space like to feel like astronaut’.

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In short, most good quality well-made watches have been in to space at some point during the 77 person years and counting spent up there. Even if they weren’t space approved by their respective space agencies. They at least went as an astronauts favourite second watch which they use to stay in contact with their loved ones. What can be a more important function of a space watch than that?

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