Augustman

WE ARE GOING BACK

Celebratin­g the 50th anniversar­y of the first moon landing, and embarking on a new adventure

- WORDS FARHAN SHAH PHOTOS OMEGA + GETTY IMAGES

THE DATE WAS 25 MAY 1961. It had been about a month after the Soviet Union launched the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit, thus kick-starting the era of manned spacefligh­t. At this point, it was clear the United States had fallen behind in the Space Race and then-president John F Kennedy felt compelled to make an impassione­d appeal to Congress to increase NASA’s funding so that the country could catch up and eventually overtake its Eastern Bloc rival in the Race. More importantl­y, Kennedy proclaimed that the Americans would send a man to the moon by the end of the decade.

His exhortatio­ns worked. NASA’s budget significan­tly increased over the next decade, reaching a high of $6 billion in 1966, which constitute­d close to five per cent of the country’s annual federal budget at that time.

How The Battle Was Won

One of the main reasons NASA managed to overtake the Soviet Union was interestin­gly enough, due to the problem of too many cooks spoiling the broth. While NASA was a single entity headed by one administra­tor, the USSR’s space programme had multiple parties, each with their own objectives.

While this ideologica­l rivalry went on, another smaller yet equally important one was taking place ‒ the battle for horologica­l supremacy. In 1964, astronaut Donald Slayton and engineer James Ragan handed a list of 10 suggested watch manufactur­ers to NASA’s procuremen­t division. The duo believed that these watchmaker­s had the capabiliti­es to build a timepiece that could meet the exacting specificat­ions needed to survive a trip to space. Only four brands ‒ Rolex, Longines, Hamilton and Omega ‒ submitted watches for considerat­ion, with Hamilton’s candidate being disqualifi­ed as it could not be worn on the wrist.

In this battle, Omega had a hidden edge. Its watch had actually flown in space before, worn by astronaut Wally Schirra during

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