An independent researcher has presented conclusive evidence that US astronaut John Glenn was wearing a Heuer stopwatch when he piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 "Friendship 7" spacecraft on the first manned U.S. orbital mission. This means that Heuer now named TAG Heuer was the first Swiss watchmaker in space! Prior to Glenn’s historic flight, the only watch to pass beyond the stratosphere was the Russian-made chronograph that Yuri Gagarin wore when he orbited the earth in 1961.
The evidence, presented by space and watch enthusiast Jeff Stein, is based on flight records and NASA documents and several archival photographs.
The stopwatch, a “standard Heuer stopwatch, Reference 2915A,” with 12-hour capacity and 1/5 second accuracy, was fitted with elastic bands to be secured onto the sleeve of Glenn's spacesuit. It is now owned by the Smithsonian Institute and currently on display at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Stein includes this quote from the display: “After the failure of other brands on the earlier flights of Alan Shepherd and Virgil "Gus" Grissom, the TAG Heuer was selected by NASA due to its ability to withstand the high G-forces created by liftoff.”
The launch from “Cape Canaveral” later renamed for President Kennedy, in Florida on February 22, 1962, saw John Glenn successfully orbit the earth three times, reaching a maximum altitude of approximately 162 miles and an orbital velocity of approximately 17,500 miles per hour. The mission lasted almost five hours, requiring the use of Heuer’s well-proven 12-hour timer.
According to Stein, the Heuer stopwatch strapped to Glenn’s wrist over his space suit served as the "backup clock" for the flight.
“Measuring time has been a critical factor in men's journeys into space,” writes Stein, “as it was also critical in man's early journeys across the oceans or the continents by railroad. Whether executing precise maneuvers or navigating the journey, it has been critical for space travelers to be able to time events and to know the time of day (in a realm in which there are no days). Conditions demand timepieces that will be rugged, reliable and precise, and easy to read and operate.”
“I am happy to introduce the TAG Heuer name—with its rich history and reputation in sports and scientific timing—into this discussion (or perhaps we should call it the "space race"), and to present the information and images that I have gathered,” writes Stein on his excellent vintage Heuer website - OnTheDash.com.
John Glenn’s adaptation of a Heuer stopwatch allowed him to keep time reliably with the utmost accuracy throughout the flight. Today, the astronaut would have no shortage of high-quality TAG Heuer chronographs to choose from! Today the brand is also famous for creating avant-garde movements, housing these in leading-edge chronograph cases, and equipping them with highly flexible bracelets of unparalleled durability, comfort and elegance.
The leading maker of precision-driven sports watches and chronographs since 1860, TAG Heuer (tagheuer.com) is grateful to Jeff Stein for his research and proud to be associated with John Glenn’s historic achievement.