To enthusiasts of NASA and the Omega Speedmaster, the year 1965 means one thing: Gemini IV, when astronaut Ed White would make history as the first American astronaut to walk in space.
And while the achievements of Project Gemini laid the groundwork for the Apollo missions, Ed White’s walk was only one in a series of events that helped NASA prepare for the Moon landing in 1969.
1965 was the last year of the Ranger Program, unmanned space missions that spanned from 1961 to 1965. The purpose of the Ranger program was to map the Moon’s surface, with an eye toward determining landing sites for the Moon Landing. The success of Ranger 8 in February 1965 would enable NASA to determine a landing site for Apollo 11.
NASA relied on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at La Canada Flintridge to manufacture the Ranger spacecrafts. It was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that was responsible for the creation of the United States’s first satellite, the Explorer 1, launched in 1958. JPL began development of the Ranger spacecrafts in 1959.
The early years of the Ranger Program were fraught with setbacks. The first two flights, in August and November of 1961, failed at launch. Ranger 4’s launch was perfect, but missed its target and crash landed on the far side of the moon. However, it maintained communication with Mission Control, thus proving the efficacy of the spacecraft's communication system. Ranger 5 missed the moon entirely, as did Ranger 3, which overshot the Moon by 36,800 km and entered into a heliocentric orbit.
It’s been orbiting the Sun ever since.
Dissatisfied with the results of the first five Ranger missions, Congress launched an investigation into “problems of management” at NASA and at JPL; unsurprisingly, the next block of Ranger missions (6 through 9) would prove successful.
It was Ranger 8 that crash-landed in the Sea of Tranquility on February 17, 1965, where Apollo 11 would land nearly five years later. The spacecraft’s cameras transmitted 7,134 images back to NASA. These were the first close-up photographs of the Moon ever taken.
Four months after Ranger 8 documented the Moon’s surface, Ed White took his famous flight.
The Omega Speedmaster that Ed White wore was a Reference 105.003, produced from 1964 to 1969. At the time of Ed White's historic flight, Omega was already developing a new reference of Speedmaster with a new designation of "Professional," to replace the straight-lugged versions favored by Ed White and Wally Schirra. The new reference, 105.012, had the added bonus of crown guards and the further solidified association with NASA.
But the Ed White is the last Speedmaster to have straight lugs, and is the first to have baton--rather than dauphine--hands. That fact, which put off collectors (who might have viewed it as a placeholder between the 2998 and the Apollo-era 105.012) in the past, is now immensely attractive.
For many collectors and enthusiasts, early "pre-Moon" references of Speedmaster--like the Ed White--carry a tremendous value, both historically and horologically, representing the fascinating (and oft-overlooked) transitional period in humanity's quest to reach the Moon.