Edward Higgins White II (Ed to his pals) was an Astronaut in the early days of the American space program. As part of his flight on Gemini IV, the precursor to the Apollo program that put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon in 1969, he was the first American to do a space walk – or in NASA terms, complete an EVA – Extra-Vehicular Activity.
Public Service Broadcasting do a song about that, though it was something done first by the Russians…
Sadly, Ed White was killed in the Apollo 1 disaster, a tragic fire in the cockpit during testing for the journey to the moon. PSB cover that too, quite sensitively.
Famously, NASA conducted a trial when they were planning the Apollo program, to test a selection of watches for use in space – and the Omega Speedmaster was the only one to pass all the tests, and thus was chosen as standard issue for all astronauts. It’s still the only watch that NASA has certified for EVA use – ie to be worn on the outside of the space suit when doing a space walk.
But during Gemini, NASA issued a selection of watches and they gave Ed White a Speedmaster 105.003 to wear during his EVA and thus it was the first watch worn outside, in space.
As a result of the association, the genre that is 105.003 (produced from 1963-65) is now known as the “Ed White” Speedmaster. It’s characterised from the watch worn by Aldrin on the moon (Armstrong left his in the LEM as a backup so Buzz was the first man on the moon with a watch on his wrist), by a few modifications that Omega made to the 105.003 design, ahead of it – in 105.012 guise – being chosen as standard issue.
The 105.012 and 145.012 watches that Apollo astronauts wore were essentially evolutions of the Ed White – they had …
- a “twisted lug” (or “lyre lug”) case design, vs the “straight lug” of the previous generations
- had crown protectors between the pusher buttons and crown
- had the word “PROFESSIONAL” on the dial, supposedly put there once Omega realised that NASA was using their watches for pretty serious, professional endeavours
But otherwise, they were pretty much the same thing.
This “Ed White” is of the 105.03-64 vintage – though an Extract of the Archives from Omega confirms it was from December 1965, thereby confirming a theory when discussing Dave’s 40th Anniversary watch, that the year stamped on the caseback and the actual date of manufacture might be some time apart.
The “Moonwatch” has visibly evolved relatively little since; the watch you could buy over the counter today is entirely different, but similar in style. Omega has done a good job of making people feel that if the watch is good enough for NASA, then it’s good enough for them. An enterprising employee of BlueOrigin did send his Speedmaster into space recently, so it still counts.
The Ed White is pictured on the left, next to a 145.012–68 and 145.022–71 watch above; comparing the –64 and –71, the one on the far right has a different movement, case, bracelet, bezel, dial and chrono hand – yet most people would say they look the same.
This particular Ed White has a clean-looking Omega 321 movement, “dot over nintey” bezel that’s in decent but not perfect shape, but the dial is top drawer. In many respects, that’s the most valuable part of any watch – and this one is very good. Almost too good to wear, given its value…
The Ed White has had a few things done to it – the bracelet was refurbished by Michael Young in Hong Kong, to tighten it up, and the watch has been serviced and the lume plot at 10 lightly touched up and stabilised by Omega guru Simon Freese.