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All eyes were on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket this weekend as it was the first time NASA astronauts were carried to the International Space Station aboard a commercially-built craft. And while we excitedly watched the take-off on Saturday with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley at the helm, we couldn’t help but notice what Behnken was wearing on his wrist during his pre-launch checks: an Omega X-33 wristwatch.
It’s not surprising that it was his timepiece of choice as it was dubbed the “Mars Watch” and designed for space travel when it first debuted in 1998. Former NASA Apollo X astronaut General Tom Stafford was on Omega’s corporate board and provided input for the unique design.
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A series of prototypes were created over three years and tested by several space frontiersmen like NASA astronaut Richard Linnehan and Russian cosmonauts Victor Afansiev. The result was details like an 80-decibel alarm, so it could be heard in a spaceship, a touch system that could be used wearing large gloves, a brightly lit digital display that accurately tracked timelapse from the beginning of the mission, and the capability of completing calculations. Behnken’s also featured a velcro strap for easy adjustment.
While this is the more modern version of the timepiece, NASA has long used Speedmasters. In 1965, the original design was used by NASA’s Qualification Test Procedures program to help astronauts on the first mission to the moon. The relationship between Omega and NASA continued until 1995 when a new iteration of the watch was created.
The design has also become quite the collectors’ item for watch lovers. A version worn by Russian cosmonaut Sergei Zalyotin, who wore it on missions to both the Mir and International Space Stations, is being auctioned off at Christie’s. The estimated value is between $10,000 and $20,000.