The Space X Falcon 9 rocket has finally launched, the first stage has landed back on Earth and the Dragon Capsule has docked with the ISS.
The rocket climbed into the sky from the same platform as the majority of historic Apollo and Space Shuttle missions. Pad 39A was a fitting choice of launch site; throughout the 1960s crews set forth from this exact location heralding a new era of human exploration. Astronauts on all the Apollo flights we equipped with Omega Speedmaster Chronographs which are regularly analysed with almost NASA precision in WatchGecko features. The successor to the classic Moonwatch, the Omega Speedmaster X-33, part-conceived by Apollo 10 Astronaut Tom Stafford, graced the wrists of later Shuttle crews also leaving Pad 39A, en route to the International Space Station (ISS). A few mechanical Speedmasters are still worn by ISS crew but the more advanced X-33 is a regular sight deployed by well know astronauts such as Tim Peake and Chris Hadfield.
To those of us already struggling to get our heads around the new “trendy” Space X flight suits, it was noted with some sadness that a wristwatch did not appear over Bob Behnken or Doug Hurley’s spacesuit arm in pre-launch PR images as the Speedy had done during Apollo. Personal Omega X-33s were seen in NASA blue suit shots but there was no confirmation of a “flight” watch. Right up until the moment on 27 May when the crew were first strapped into the Dragon Capsule my jury was out on the suits but then I noticed an irregular, metal, but very familiar shape on Behnken’s left arm. His Omega X-33 – not a modern Gen 3 Skywalker, but clearly a grey digital face Gen 1 or 2, worn on what appeared to be a classic NASA Velcro strap. It was a revelation and suddenly the men looked like astronauts. I loved the suits, the touch screens, even the helmets which looked like they have taken from the Nostromo. The same watch, plus possibly another wore by Hurley, has again been seen on 31 May, now on an Omega titanium strap in preparation for life on the ISS. (A strap change in zero-G must be some challenge…)
Thank goodness for that Omega. It, and Pad 39A, brought a sense of cohesion to the whole project at the final moment. That watch embodied the presence of every previous Apollo and Shuttle flight. Of course, these brave men have the “right stuff” and deserved respect equal to Armstrong, Lovell or Cernan. There is no doubt that Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy will be the future of space launches for the foreseeable future and they represent a completely new philosophy of reusable spacecraft which we must embrace if we are to continue to fly beyond our atmosphere. However, I make no apology for stating that, in the midst of such cutting-edge technology, the sight of an X-33, worn by a NASA astronaut, in a rocket capsule, was the highlight of the launch for me.
Banner image credit: Monochrome Watches