How a Zero-Gravity Omega Watch Repair Revolutionized NASA’s Space Station Fixes

How a Zero-Gravity Omega Watch Repair Revolutionized NASA’s Space Station Fixes Leave a comment

Since 2000, the Worldwide Area Station has sped by way of house at 17,500 mph, 260 miles above our heads, affording its rotation of seven astronauts to gaze on the overwhelming majority of Earth each 90 minutes.

Don Pettit, sporting his Omega Speedmaster, utilizing a nonetheless digicam to {photograph} the topography of a degree on Earth from the nadir window within the Future laboratory on the Worldwide Area Station (ISS).

{Photograph}: NASA

However again in 2002, Don Pettit’s eyes have been targeted firmly on a circle of decidedly contrasting proportions: 45 millimeters, to be exact, the diameter of his titanium-cased Omega wristwatch, packed to the gills with the Swiss watchmaker’s “calibre 5619” quartz-crystal-regulated electronics, examined in cahoots with the European Area Company.

“Gills” being the operative phrase, as Pettit explains to me over a Zoom name from his dwelling quarters in Moscow’s Star Metropolis, the place he’s coaching away from dwelling in Oregon. “The Russian cosmonauts launch with the mechanical, hand-wound Omega Speedmaster—the identical watch certified for Apollo, which went to the moon. And NASA astronauts nonetheless fly with Omega watches. However I put on the digital Speedmaster as a result of,” Pettit says, whipping off his X-33 and holding it rear aspect to the webcam, “its titanium case has acoustical ‘vents’ across the again.

“It means its three alarms are actually loud—the loudest alarm I’ve ever heard from a wristwatch. Which is nice on orbit, since you’re dwelling in a really noisy setting.”

Over 20 years in the past, however solely lately shared on Pettit’s Instagram account (principally showcasing examples of his unbelievable astrophotography), this vented case again wanted to come back off for an uncommon little bit of area restore work—with unexpectedly vital repercussions additional down the road.

The “calibre 5619” Omega X-33 Speedmaster, the identical as Pettit’s mannequin.

{Photograph}: Omega

The present iteration of the Omega X-33 Speedmaster.

{Photograph}: Omega

Omega have since mounted the problems, Pettit is fast to make clear, however his early model of the digital Speedmaster developed a free crown—the principle, continuously pushed and rotated interface for its multiple functions. “It fell off and acquired misplaced,” he says, “and one of many 4 buttons had additionally fallen off. So I used to be sporting a watch caught in some archaic mode, displaying Universal time.

“All these bits float round [the ISS] and ultimately get caught on filters. You must clear the filters as soon as per week, as a result of all this junk accumulates in them, and it was like, ‘Wow! I discovered the bits for my watch! Let’s repair it!’”

To the delight of house nerds and watch nerds alike, Pettit has revealed the extent of his horological guerrilla techniques, involving a Leatherman multi-tool, tweezers, jeweler’s screwdriver and—most pleasingly—a strip of sticky-side-up duct tape, to make sure the eight minuscule case-back screws didn’t float away.

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