AN INCREDIBLE STORY
Apollo 7 Speedmaster Missing for 30 years
As a young individual born and raised in Houston, TX, I have always been enraptured by the pride and history given to our city by NASA and its achievements. Countless excited visits to NASA as a child were followed by years of growing interest and knowledge of the space program, and the individuals and equipment that were used to achieve the unimaginable. With an equally established love for wrist watches early on in life, the OMEGA Speedmaster has been a large focus of my obsession. It’s form and function alone are enough to impress any enthusiast; however, it is the Speedmaster’s deep history with some of mankind’s greatest achievements that attracted me to the Moonwatch at the earliest stages of my fascination with mechanical timepieces.
By Garron DuPree
Apollo 7 Astronauts Donn F. Eisele, foreground, and Walter Cunningham, rear, undergo spacesuit checks. October 11, 1968.
Image Credit: NASA
One day in late September 2017, my relationship with the OMEGA Speedmaster took a unique turn.
On this early Autumn day, I found myself browsing eBay for vintage Speedmasters when I came across a listing for such a watch from a seller in south Texas. The particular watch in the listing was comprised of an assortment of non-correct Speedmaster parts, but it had many parts from a 145.022-74, many of which I was interested in as possible donor parts for my own Speedmaster of the same reference. While my interest in this particular watch was mild, I decided to message the seller to ask a few questions about it. During my conversation with the seller, I had mentioned that I was from Houston, and to my surprise he mentions that he would be visiting the following day and would be happy to show me the watch in the listing, as he was admittedly unable to answer many of my questions. Through this conversation, we exchanged contact information to coordinate the potential meet up, and began chatting through text about various other watches in our collections.
It was then that the conversation shifted towards a particular watch that his friend obtained for $5,000 on a trip to Ecuador – a vintage OMEGA Speedmaster, which he tells me, “may have gone to the moon…”
In all honestly, when I read this I chuckled at the naivety of such a claim, and quickly dismissed the statement in my mind. In an effort to be polite, we continue our conversation when the seller promptly volunteers to send me some photos of the watch in question. A few moments later, four photos arrive at my phone. A quick swipe later, and I am astonished at what I see. The photos that I receive show clearly the front, back, and sides of the Speedmaster, with the interesting engravings as promised. I initially recognized the NASA SEB number adorning the watch’s case back, along with its NASA serial number engraved on the case band – but initially do not know what the significance of this particular Speedmaster might be.
The Apollo 7 crew is welcomed aboard the USS Essex, the prime recovery ship for the mission. Left to right, are astronauts Walter M. Schirra Jr., commander; Donn F. Eisele, command module pilot; and Walter Cunningham, lunar module pilot. In left background is Dr. Donald E. Stullken, NASA Recovery Team Leader from the Manned Spacecraft Center’s (MSC) Landing and Recovery Division.
Image Credit: NASA
Feeling frantic, I immediately begin scouring the internet to find any information about this watch and its possible story.
In a search, I find a decade old forum thread on collectSPACE.com about two OMEGA Speedmasters used by Donn Eisele on Apollo 7 – the NASA issued S/N 34, and non-issued S/N 38 – the latter of which was being sold at auction at the time, and the former which went missing while on loan from the Smithsonian in Ecuador in 1989.
The prime crew of the first manned Apollo space mission, Apollo 7, stands on the deck of the NASA Motor Vessel Retriever after suiting up for water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico. Left to right are astronauts R. Walter Cunningham, Donn F. Eisele and Walter M. “Wally” Schirra Jr.
Image Credit: NASA
For the time-being, I dropped the subject entirely with my new acquaintance, not yet mentioning anything about what I suspect to be an invaluable artifact from Apollo 7 that has been missing for nearly 30 years.
At this time, neither he, nor his friend who possesses the watch appeared to have any clear idea of what they possessed. Myself having no clue what the possessor’s intentions could be, I chose to refrain from giving any additional information until contacting a professional on the subject. Instead, I quietly set out to find and inform the appropriate personnel on this historical artifact. After debating for several days, I decided to email Robert Pearlman, the owner of collectSPACE, and the individual who posted the aforementioned information on S/N 34 on collectSPACE.com. While proceeding very cautiously, Robert eventually puts me in touch with the appropriate personnel. Over the following months, I am able to work closely with the Smithsonian and the FBI, to facilitate its retrieval.
Though the Speedmaster has meant a lot to me over my time spent interested in wrist watches, its history has taken on a new meaning to me during the unfolding of this unlikely story.
From a born-and-raised space program enthusiast, to a casual watch lover, to the serendipitous recovery of a historical Moonwatch that went missing in the very year of my birth, the Speedmaster has and will continue to hold a special place in my heart. I am honored to have played a part in the recovery of Speedmaster S/N 34, and owe my utmost gratitude to those who helped this Speedmaster to be returned to it’s rightful place.