THE RIGHT STUFF

For the ultimate proof that the OMEGA Flightmaster did indeed have the “right stuff”, one must look to the East, on the other side of the Space Race. The ultimate test for any watch was space and the Flightmaster was ready to take on that particular challenge. Although the relationship of the legendary Speedmaster with NASA is by now widely known and extensively documented, scarce information exists about the connection of the Flightmaster with the Soviet Space Program.

While the rather tightly organized NASA offered its astronauts a small variety of officially tested and duly qualified equipment for their missions and – within the context of the program – saw fit to specifically qualify a wristworn chronograph (the OMEGA Speedmaster) as the flight crews’ only qualified timing device and potentially life-saving backup instrument, the Soviet Cosmonauts used a wide variety of Russian-made chronographs and diver’s watches during their missions.

Looking at the selection offered at the time and evidenced on the wrists of several famous cosmonauts, it becomes apparent that the Soviet space program adopted a multitude of different watch types, depending on the scope of each mission. A well-known exception to the predominantly Russian watches was the widespread usage of OMEGA chronographs, starting in the early 1970s. These affinities with OMEGA could derive from the following three facts.

Firstly, American astronauts wearing their Speedmaster chronographs appeared in every major publication on the globe. This must certainly have influenced the Soviet cosmonauts and strengthened their desire to also wear OMEGA chronographs.

Secondly, the deep personal relationship that developed between General Thomas P. Stafford and cosmonaut and Major General of the Air Force Alexey Leonov must have been decisive. What was to become a great and enduring Cold-War friendship started during the preliminary and planning stages of the historic Apollo-Soyuz (or Soyuz-Apollo if you were looking at it from behind the Iron Curtain) mission that was successfully launched and took place in 1975. It is no coincidence that OMEGA chronographs – especially the Flightmaster – started to appear on the wrists of Soviet cosmonauts from the early 1970s onwards.

Last but not least, coinciding with a shift in Kremlin policy – a change that would be eventually rolled back by the beginning of the 1980s – the Soviet cosmonauts were open to new ideas and directions. It can thus be considered as normal that they were looking to obtain the most dependable tool-watches, or simply wanted the best watch they could find.

The Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP)

The Apollo-Soyuz mission began at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Soyuz 19 launched July 15, 1975, at 12:20 UTC, carrying cosmonauts Alexey Leonov and Valery Kubasov. Hours later, Apollo followed, lifting off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 19:50 UTC. On board were astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, Vance Brand and Donald Slayton. Both the Soyuz and Apollo vehicles made orbital adjustments during the following two days, bringing both into a circular, 229-kilometer orbit. Hard-dock was achieved on July 17 at 16:19 UTC as the two crafts soared above the Atlantic Ocean.

While a famous urban legend has it that the Speedmaster was adopted for this historic joint mission when an OMEGA sales representative boldly stated to the Soviet cosmonauts and planners “if you want to be on time with the Americans you should wear the same watch”, it is safer to assume that the Soviet cosmonauts came into actual contact with the Speedmaster chronographs around the time NASA officials’ first preparatory trips to the Soviet space center began in the early 1970s.

We know that the very person responsible for qualifying all commercially obtainable products for NASA, James H. Ragan – the man who tested and qualified the Speedmaster in 1965 – was one of the first NASA engineers to visit the Soviet Union to meet his counterparts at Baikonur in order to start the actual planning stages of the upcoming collaborative mission.

It would appear logical for Ragan to actually have pushed for a commonly used timing instrument for the mission, and a discussion with him (in December 2017) revealed the following: “We were working at Star City back in July of 1974, training both our astronauts and the Russian cosmonauts. We were also responsible for looking at all the equipment that was to be used on the mission, American and Russian. This involved everything, even down to the photographic hardware. At the end we had a meeting and presented our findings and the recommendations on what we wanted changed or corrected – including the advice that since our astronauts were using the Omega Speedmaster Chronographs I had qualified, both crews should wear the same watches. This was accepted and the Russian cosmonauts wore the Omega Speedmaster chronographs on the ASTP mission” (James H. Ragan).

The joint U.S.-USSR crew for the Apollo Soyuz Test Project. Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford (standing on left), commander of the American crew; Cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov (standing on right), commander of the Soviet crew; Astronaut Donald K. Slayton (seated on left), docking module pilot of the American crew; Astronaut Vance D. Brand (seated in center), command module pilot of the American crew; and Cosmonaut Valeriy N. Kubasov (seated on right), engineer on the Soviet crew. On this picture, it seems that the five men are wearing OMEGA Speedmasters.

Image credit: NASA.

During the planning and training phases of the mission, General Thomas P. Stafford was wearing not only his officially NASA-issued Speedmaster, but also the 18K gold Speedmaster he – and most other astronauts – received from OMEGA in Houston in 1969 as a commemorative token of appreciation. Many period pictures of General Stafford clearly show him wearing two Speedmaster chronograph, including the 18K gold one. Commanding the mission on NASA’s side, it would also appear logical for General Stafford to have asked that his Soviet colleagues and participating cosmonauts be equipped with the same timekeeping instruments. On the actual mission, it is known that ten Speedmasters were used, two for each astronaut or cosmonaut. The watches worn by the astronauts were the standard NASA-issued Speedmaster chronographs equipped with the caliber 321, while the cosmonauts wore the newer ST 145.022 powered by caliber 861.

But other than the Speedmasters, Leonov and Kubasov also wore another chronograph: as seen on many period pictures, during training for the mission as well as on official publicity pictures before and after the mission, Leonov sported a ST 145.026 Flightmaster. Period correspondence and other archival material suggests that the Flightmaster was actively worn by both Leonov and Kubasov on almost all occasions prior to the actual mission. The watch was certainly worn during most of the training and was on the Russian cosmonauts’ wrists at numerous public events, a fact that is well documented and preserved in pictorial records.

Cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov (april 1974). On 18 March 1965, he became the first human to conduct extravehicular activity (EVA), exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for a 12-minute spacewalk.

Image credit: NASA.

Flown or not flown Flightmasters on ASTP

Newly discovered material within the archives at the OMEGA Museum that includes official letters and paperwork related to the mission sheds new light and offers a glimpse of how the watch was used and if it was even actually worn during the flight itself. But while a short summary from a telephone conversation that took place on May 12, 1975 between General Stafford and OMEGA’s Dr. Hans Widmer mentions that General Stafford “confirms that the Russian cosmonauts will wear the Flightmaster” in flight, this mention alone – while an amazing possibility indeed – is not sufficient proof of the chronograph’s ultimate step to fame.

Unfortunately, not even further mentions on several other documents suggesting the same fact are not enough to serve as real proof. And since photographic evidence to back the hypothesis of any flown Flightmasters on ASTP has not yet been found, the question will need to remain an open one… until another document potentially shows up and brings this investigation to an end.

PORTFOLIO

On all the pictures presented hereafter, Leonov and/or Kubasov are wearing an OMEGA Flightmaster.

23 April 1974. Cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov (center), goes through familiarization training with a television camera during ASTP activity at the Johnson Space Center. Cosmonaut Valeriy N. Kubasov (right), is looking on. An ASTP docking module mock-up is on the left. Interpreter K.S. Samofal is behind Kubasov. David Brooks, with JSC’s Crew Procedures Division, is in the left background. This phase of the ASTP communications training was conducted in JSC’s Building 35.

Image credit: NASA.

23 April 1974. Candidate food items being considered for the joint U.S.-USSR Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission are sampled by three ASTP crewmen in Building 4 at the Johnson Space Center. They are, left to right, cosmonaut Valeriy N. Kubasov; astronaut Vance D. Brand; and cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov. Kubasov is marking a food rating chart on which the crewmen mark their choices, likes and dislikes of the food being sampled. Brand is drinking orange juice from an accordion-like dispenser. Leonov is eating butter cookies. The two Soviet crewmen will have an opportunity to eat with the three American crewmen while the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft are docked in Earth orbit. Leonov and Kubasov will dine on food being chosen individually by them now.

Image credit: NASA.

23 April 1974. Leonov is drinking orange juice from an accordion-like dispenser.

Image credit: NASA.

23 April 1974. Cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov (foreground) is briefed on the Apollo communications test system console in the Building 440 laboratory during the joint U.S.-USSR Apollo-Soyuz Test Project training activity at the Johnson Space Center. Leonov is being briefed by astronaut Thomas P. Stafford.

Image credit: NASA.

7 September 1974. President Gerald R. Ford removes the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft model from a model set depicting the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. The cosmonauts and astronauts are, left to right, Vladimir A. Shatalov, Chief, Cosmonaut Training; Valeriy N. Kubasov; Aleksey A. Leonov; Thomas P. Stafford; Donald K. Slayton; and Vance D. Brand. Dr. George M. Low, Deputy Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is partially obscured behind Mr. Ford.

Image credit: NASA.

September 1974. Cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov goes through an isotonic exercise routine in Building 260 during Apollo-Soyuz Test Project training at the Johnson Space Center. ASTP crewmen are training in both the U.S. and USSR for the joint docking mission in Earth orbit scheduled for the summer of 1975.

Image credit: NASA.

September 1974. The two prime crews of the joint U.S.-USSR Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) sit atop ASTP mock-ups at Johnson Space Center (JSC) to symbolize their historic docking mission in Earth orbit scheduled for the summer of 1975. They are, left to right, astronaut Donald K. Slayton; astronaut Vance D. Brand; astronaut Thomas P. Stafford; cosmonaut Valeriy N. Kubasov; and cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov. The three Americans are seated on a mock-up of a Docking Module, which is designed to link the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft. The two Soviets are atop a mock-up of a Soyuz spacecraft orbital module. Leonov and Kubasov were among a group of cosmonauts and engineers who visited JSC for three weeks of joint crew training.

Image credit: NASA.

September 1974. The commanders of the American astronaut and Soviet cosmonaut crews for the joint U.S.-USSR Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission compare notes in a Soyuz spacecraft’s orbital module mock-up in Building 35 at the Johnson Space Center during a training and simulation exercise. They are Aleksey A. Leonov, right, and Thomas P. Stafford. The hatchway in the background leads to the Docking Module.

Image credit: NASA.

September 1974. Cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov (right), enjoys a tribal welcome from Shoshone Indians during a hunting trip in the Lander, Wyoming area. Leonov was in the United States to take part in joint crew training at the Johnson Space Center.

Image credit: NASA.

23 September 1974. The five prime crewmen of the joint U.S.-USSR Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission are photographed in the Flight Crew Training Facility, Building 35, at the Johnson Space Center during ASTP crew training activity. They are, left to right, astronaut Donald K. Slayton; cosmonaut Valeriy N. Kubasov; cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov; astronaut Thomas P. Stafford; and astronaut Vance D. Brand.

Image credit: NASA.

8-10 February 1975. A space-suited Mickey Mouse character welcomes the prime crewmen of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission to Florida’s Disney World near Orlando. The crewmen made a side-trip to Disney World during a three-day inspection tour of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The crewmen were at KSC to look over launch facilities and flight hardware. Receiving the jovial Disney World welcome are, left to right, cosmonaut Valeriy N. Kubasov; astronaut Donald K. Slayton; astronaut Vance D. Brand; cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov; astronaut Thomas P. Stafford; and cosmonaut Vladimir A. Shatalov.

Image credit: NASA.

8-10 February 1975. A group of Apollo-Soyuz Test Project crewmen inspects an Apollo spacesuit during a three-day tour of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. They were at KSC to look over ASTP launch facilities and flight hardware. The six men wearing white caps are, left to right, cosmonaut Valeriy N. Kubasov, interpreter K.S. Samofal (far end of table), astronaut Vance D. Brand, cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov, cosmonaut Vladimir A. Shatalov and astronaut Donald K. Slayton.

Image credit: NASA.

10 February 1975. Prime crews for Apollo Soyuz Test Project inspect spacecraft checkout facilities in Manned Spacecraft Operations Building ACE Station. They are, left to right, astronaut Donald K. Slayton; astronaut Vance D. Brand; astronaut Thomas P. Stafford; cosmonaut Valeriy N. Kubasov; and cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov.

Image credit: NASA.

12 February 1975. Six Apollo-Soyuz Test Project crewmen participate in joint crew training in Building 35 at the Johnson Space Center. They are (wearing flight suits), left to right, astronaut Thomas P. Stafford; astronaut Donald K. Slayton; cosmonaut Valeriy N. Kubasov; astronaut Vance D. Brand; cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov; and cosmonaut Vladimir A. Dzhanibekov, commander of the Soviet ASTP third (backup) crew. Brand is seated next to the hatch of the Apollo Command Module trainer. This picture was taken during a “walk-through” of the first day’s activities in Earth orbit. The other men are interpreters and training personnel.

Image credit: NASA.

April 1975. Cosmonaut Aleksey A. Leonov, commander of the Soviet ASTP prime crew, practices with a training mock-up of the ASTP commemorative medal during Apollo-Soyuz Test Project activity at the Cosmonaut Training Center (Star City) near Moscow. Leonov is in the Soyuz orbital module trainer. Two medals divided into two halves each will be flown on the mission. The American ASTP crew will carry two halves aboard Apollo; and the Soviet ASTP crew will carry the other two halves aboard Soyuz. The four halves will be joined together to make two complete medals after the two spacecraft rendezvous and dock in Earth orbit. Grooved slots in the halves will allow the medals to be fitted together. One medal then will be returned to Earth by the astronauts; and the second medal will be brought back by the cosmonauts.

Image credit: NASA.

July 1975. Cosmonauts Valeriy N. Kubasov (left) and Aleksey A. Leonov (right) participate in English language training during Apollo-Soyuz Test Project preflight preparations at the Cosmonaut Training Center (Star City) near Moscow. They are seated in the language laboratory at Star City.

Image credit: USSR Academy of Sciences.

1976. After the mission, some of the ASTP crew members have been invited in Switzerland to visit the OMEGA factory and some other important institutions. On the first two pictures, Leonov and Stafford are welcomed by Charles-Louis Brandt (center, wearing glasses), President of OMEGA. On the third one, Leonov is signing an autograph; Alois Lugger (on the right) is the mayor of Innsbruck, who was involved in organizing the Innsbruck Winter Games (note the Olympic rings on his jacket) in 1976.

Image credit: OMEGA.

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Special thanks go to Petros Protopapas, OMEGA, International Brand Heritage Manager and Ilias Giannopoulos, Journalist and Watch Expert, for their contribution to the Flightmaster Only book.

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