I've been researching the history of watches in space flight and was intrigued to learn of the 'underground' loyalty many NASA astronauts had for Accutron watches during the 1960's. Previously I had associated the 'official' Omega Speedmaster as the timepiece of choice for early space pioneers, but it turns out that Bulova supplied NASA's official timepieces for a decade prior to the Apollo moon landings. Omega only clinched the deal after a controversial trial in the mid-sixties.
1957: NASA approached Bulova to design a time-keeper for Project Vanguard. When Vanguard I made orbit on March 17 1958 it took with it the first Accutron in space:
Bulova Accutrons subsequently become the official provider of time keeping mechanisms for all the Vanguard, Tiros, Explorer, Relay, Syncom, Pegasus, Mercury and Telstar programmes. Despite issuing Omega wristwatches to Apollo programme astronauts, the panel clocks in the LEM and Command Module are still Accutrons for all Apollo missions.
1962: 17th July Robert M White takes the X-15 on its first flight to the limit of space, achieving a top speed of 3831mph at an altitude of 60 miles. On his wrist is the Accutron Astronaut, just visible on his left wrist in the picture below.
1962: Accutron Astronauts are issued to all pilots in the A-12 'Blackbird' programme.
CIA pilot Frank Murray later claims the Accutron was "the only watch that could sustain reliable operation in the A-12 cockpit environment". He is pictured below wearing his personal Astronaut.
Whilst Scott Carpenter is better known for wearing his Breitling Cosmonaute Navitimer on the 1962 Mercury 7 mission, in the famous picture below (from the cover of Paris Match) he wears his own Bulova Accutron Astronaut.
1963: Gordon Cooper orbits the earth 22 times in 'Faith 7' wearing an Accutron Astronaut on his right wrist (pictured below) and an Omega Speedmaster on his left wrist (not visible). He reports that the Omega lost time as a result of the severe G-forces experienced during take off. The Accutron functions perfectly throughout and becomes the first American wristwatch worn in space.
1964: Gus Grissom wears an Accutron Astronaut on the Gemini 3 training missions, lent to him by stand-by pilot Wally Schirra (who earlier wore the first Speedmaster in space - his own watch)
Finally, this lead to my personal hunt for an original 1960's Bulova Accutron Astronaut - my favourite being the black-dial 24 hour model with day/night bezel...this 'M8' 1968 model finally arrived last week:
Wonderful, idiosyncratic 'humming' watches and a fascinating hidden history.