Monday, May 27, 2024

The Apollo 13 Rolex Story

53 Years Ago

Apollo 13 Launch

All 3 Crew Members Wore Rolex

Back on April 20, of 2024 Rolex celebrated the history of the GMT-Master by introducing a new GMT-Master that featured a black and grey bezel insert, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the amazing Rolex NASA history. 53 years ago, three NASA Astronauts took-off for the moon aboard Apollo 13 and ended up going through one of the most harrowing ordeals in space exploration history.

Back in 2008, I wrote my first Apollo 13 Rolex Rolex story, and ever since then I have written many more stories on the subject. I decided it would be great to consolidate all my research findings in this definitive article that chronicles the Apollo 13 mission and their Rolex watches.

Jack Swigert

"Houston, we've had a problem"

Jack Swigert was born John Leonard Swigert on August 30, 1931 and passed away on December 27, 1982 at the young age of 51 years old. Jack was a test pilot, aerospace engineer, and U.S. Air force pilot before becoming a NASA Apollo Astronaut. Jack is one of only 24 astronauts who flew to the moon. After retiring from NASA Jack ran for Congress and won but died from cancer before being sworn in to office. Jack Swigert is pictured below as he prepared to leave for the moon wearing his Pepsi GMT-Master.

Jack Swigert's Pepsi GMT-Master he wore to the moon is pictured below as he returned it to Rolex in Geneva after his mission aboard NASAs Apollo 13.

Chic Rolex Space Sheik

NASA Desert Survival Training

Rolex Pepsi GMT Master

I found this fascinating image in the NASA Archives a long time ago. The photo was taken August 14, 1967 during Apollo desert survival training. Apollo 13 Astronaut Jack Swigert is pictured on the far right and he is wearing his Rolex GMT that he wore when he flew to the moon.

Pictured from left to right: Charles M Duke Jr.Thomas K Mattingly, Col. Chester Hohart, and John (Jack) L. Swigert. 

No. These guys are not wearing Halloween costumes, and yes they are Sheiks of sorts. In the photo above, the three astronauts are in Washington state during desert survival training. During desert training the astronauts have to simulate what would happen if they land by mistake way off-course in the desert and have to do without human help for several weeks.

So how and why does this make them Sheik's? Arab Sheiks wear cotton scarfs to protect their heads, known as Keffiyeh and robes to stay cool in the extreme heat of the desert. Arab Sheiks also always wear sunglasses, often times indoors because the sun is extremely bright in the desert. The difference between the NASA Astronaut's headpiece and robes is that they are hand crafted by the Astronauts from parachutes.

The photo below is of a close up of Jack Swigert's trademark Pepsi Rolex GMT Master. If you look closely it appears that Col. Hobart is also wearing a GMT but on a Jubilee bracelet. Also, digg those chic white Jack Taylor Converse Canvass high-tops Swigert is wearing. I had a pair of those when I was little kid :-)

In this next image seen below from the U.S. National Archives, we see NASA Apollo 13 Mission Commander, James Lovell speaking with his Apollo 13 mission astronaut, Jack Swigert who is wearing his Pepsi Rolex GMT-Master in the photo. James Lovell is picture second from the left wearing the light blue Lacoste polo shirt with an alligator on it. Jack Swigert is on the far right. 

The caption from the U.S. National Archives reads:

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. - John L. Swigert, Jr., right, the Apollo 13 backup crewman being considered as command module pilot in place of Thomas K. Mattingly II because of the latter's exposure to measles, reviews mission flight plans with, left to right, Donald K. Slayton, Director, Flight Crew operations at the Manned Spacecraft Center; James A. Lovell, Jr., Apollo 13 commander; and Thomas K. Mattingly II, command module pilot.

In the image below we get a close-up of Jack Swigert wearing his Pepsi GMT-Master.

Jack was originally part of the back up crew from the Apollo 13 mission but was assigned to fly on the mission only three days before it launched as a replacement for Ken Mattingly who is pictured to the left of Swigert in the photo above. This was because the prime crew had been exposed to the German Measles (AKA The Rubella Virus).

In the photo below taken 50 years ago today on April 11, 1970 we see Apollo 13 Mission Commander, James Lovell with his fellow Apollo 13 flight mates during their Steak & Eggs breakfast as they prepare to leave for the moon. Notice Jack Swigert (right) is wearing his Pepsi GMT Master on a Rolex Oyster Bracelet and James Lovell (Center) is wearing his Pepsi GMT-Master on a Jubilee Bracelet.

In this next photo below, we see a close-up of Jack Swigert wearing a Lacoste polo shirt with an alligator on it and sporting his Pepsi Rolex GMT-Master during the steak and eggs breakfast just before they took off for the Moon.

The photo below shows Apollo 13 crew with President Richard Nixon at a ceremony celebrating the safe return of the Astronauts from the moon during which Nixon presented Fred Haise, Jim Lovell and Jack Swigert with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Notice in the photo below Jack Swigert is wearing his Pepsi GMT-Master on his left wrist with an Omega Speedmaster Chronograph on his right wrist. One of the great questions is wether or not Jack Swigert's Rolex GMT-Master was used as a timing instrument during the Apollo 13 controlled burn which got the Astronauts back to earth.

Below is a close up wrist shot that clearly shows Jack Swigert's Pepsi GMT-Master.

The image below was send it from Philip at MoonWatchUniverse and shows Jack Swigert on May 27, 1970 and he is still wearing his Pepsi GMT-Master.

Jack Swigert's Pepsi Rolex GMT-Master—pictured below—is in the Rolex private museum today, as he gave it to Rolex Director, RenĂ©-Paul Jeanneret in exchange for a yellow gold GMT-Master.

Photo Credit: James Dowling & Jeff Hess' Book, Rolex Wristwatches

Jack Swigert is pictured below, posing for his official NASA Apollo 13 portrait after he returned from the moon and notice he is now wearing his yellow gold Rolex GMT-Master which was given to him by Rolex Director, RenĂ©-Paul Jeanneret.

Jack Swigert's yellow gold Rolex GMT was auctioned in 2017 and we see a photo of it below. I could not help but notice the bezel was changed from a solid brown bezel to a bi-color brown and gold bezel.

In the photo below we see the Apollo 13 flight team after they had returned safely to Earth. Notice Jack Swigert is wearing his new yellow gold Rolex Mocha GMT on a Jubilee Bracelet. James Lovell is pictured on the far right.

The photo above was taken at a press conference a week after the Apollo Astronauts returned to earth. Click on the upper NASA photo for great detail. As you can see in the zoomed photo below, Jack Swigert is still wearing his Pepsi Rolex GMT Master.

James Lovell

James Lovell is pictured below in 1966 next to fellow NASA Apollo Astronaut, Buzz Aldrin who later flew on the Apollo 11 Moon Mission. It is interesting to note that James Lovell began wearing his Pepsi GMT-Master on a Rolex Oyster Bracelet and later switched it to a Jubilee which he wears to this day.

James Lovell was a fighter pilot and test pilot in the U.S. Navy is pictured below with fellow Apollo 8 crew members, Bill Anders and Frank Borman. Notice James Lovell is wearing his Pepsi Rolex GMT Master.

Apollo 8 crew members Bill Anders and Frank Borman are pictured below on the left wearing their MA-1 flight jackets, which became the standard issue for the U.S. Air Force and Navy Pilots, and ground crew. These flight jackets were designed to be worn in temperatures of 15 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and featured a knitted wool collar with matching cuffs. 

In the photo below we see James Lovell on the far left wearing his Pepsi Rolex GMT-Master standing with Apollo 8 crew mission members, Bill Anders and Frank Borman in front of their Apollo 8 Rocket. 

Frank Borman pictured above wearing his Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master on March 5, 1968 at Grumman's Lunar Module Factory during the announcement for the unmanned Apollo 6, which would be launched a month later. It's hard to see, but it appears Borman's GMT-Master features his West Point emblem printed on the dial next to the 9 marker. (Photo appears courtesy of NASA). Frank Boarman is pictured wearing a classic Omega Speedmaster Chronograph, which is very cool.

In the photo below we get a closer look at James Lovell's GMT-Master.

The photo below was taken 50 years ago today on April 11, 1970 and shows James Lovell on the right side with Fred Haise on his left side as they enjoy their streak and eggs breakfast just before they suit up to leave for the moon aboard Apollo 13. One of the great questions this photo provokes is did James Lovell wear his Pepsi GMT-Master to the moon and back? I plan to keep researching this question and hopefully will come up with an answer soon.

James Lovell is pictured below in a recent photo still wearing his Pepsi GMT-Master.

David Concannon snapped the photo below during the Explorers Club luncheon of NASA Astronaut, James Lovell showing off his vintage Pepsi Rolex GMT-Master.

David Concannon took this close-up wrist shot of James Lovell's Pepsi GMT, and notice on the left side of the dial, there is a U.S. Naval Academy Crest. Another Rolex mystery has been solved, and the mystery question was: "Where did James Lovell get this interesting Rolex with the unusual Naval Academy Crest."

David Concannon just solved that mystery and the answer is that James Lovell confirmed that his Rolex was a gift from the Naval Academy to honor him after his first Gemini Flight.

Fred Haise

Philip from Moon Watch Universe recently made this discovery which confirms that Fred Haise who was a member of the Apollo 13 Moon Mission wore a yellow gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual as seen in the photo above and below.

Apollo 13 Mission

The Saturn V Rocket is pictured above and in the photo below it is pictured during the pre-dawn roll out to the launch pad.

When Apollo 13 took off, everything was fine–at least initially...

"Houston, we've had a problem"

Apollo 13 made it safely to Moon orbit then all hell broke loose when there was a huge explosion that occurred on the number two oxygen tank. To make a long story short, they had to turn around and come back and were not able to go down to the lunar surface. Below is an Apollo 13 Mission Map that depicts the event.

Instead of slowing down to enter the Moon orbit, Apollo 13 used the lunar gravitational pull to catapult them around the dark side of the moon and slingshot them back toward earth.

When Apollo was circulating around the dark side of the moon, they lost radio contact with Earth so they took photos of the Moon from the Aquarius' porthole including the one below which includes a view of the damaged Command Module.

The photo above was taken from the Apollo 13 as was the photo of earth below. 

The photo below shows Jack Swigert (right) holding the "mailbox" rig that was MacGyvered to allow the Apollo 13 command module's square carbon dioxide scrubber to fit in the lunar module, which was designed to take a circular cartridge.

This is a highly controversial topic, but it's believed the Apollo Astronauts may have only made it back safely to Earth because Jack Swigert was able to use his Rolex GMT Master watch or watches to time everything correctly.

This is because after the on-board explosion occurred in the oxygen tank on the Service Module (SM) it knocked out all the electrical power in the Service Module and Command Module (CM) with the exception of emergency power that could only be utilized for re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.

This lack of power rendered all the on-board timing devices useless. The crew of Apollo 13 had no choice but to enter the Lunar Module (LM) in order to survive and this required they turn off all the power on everything in the Lunar Module.

The Lunar Module was designed to accommodate two Astronauts, not three, so they had to improvise and make accommodations, not to mention it was designed to have only two days worth of electrical power.

The ground crew at NASA had to be very creative and resourceful and come up with ways to make the two days worth of power in the Lunar Module last five days so the Astronauts could return safely to earth. In order to do so, virtually all on-board systems had to be powered down including the communications transmitter. Only the radio receiver was left on so the Apollo 13 crew could get instructions from NASA Mission Control.

Of course this rendered all of the timing devices on-board to be useless.

Jack Swigert may have depended upon his GMT Master for timing critical engine burns and thrust intervals as they boomeranged around Moon to set their trajectory for returning to earth safely.

Without Jack Swigert and his GMT Master they may not have made it back safely to earth.

If I understand it correctly NASA calculated at the time there was a 1 in 10 chance they would get back to earth safely and that depended on Jack Swigert being able to keep them on the perfect trajectory. If they strayed by even two degrees they would have missed the Earth's gravitational pull and would have kept going past earth.

It was put forth that since the Omega Speedmaster was the "Official" Moon watch that the Omega saved their lives, but James Dowling & Jeff Hess' claimed in their book "Rolex Wristwatches" that it was a Rolex GMT that Jack Swigert depended upon. I don't know because I was not there, but it is an interesting topic for Rolex enthusiasts.

I have spent a great deal of time researching much evidence that exists and I think James Dowling & Jeff Hess may be correct. 

It was extremely fortunate and nothing short of a miracle, that the NASA Astronauts were able to return to earth.

This story is fascinating as I previously documented that all Apollo 14 NASA Astronauts also wore Rolex watches. I first documented Apollo 13 mission member, Jack Swigert wore his Rolex GMT-Master to the moon and back. 

Rolex Astronauts

Below is a fascinating list of NASA Astronauts, Test Pilots and Flight Directors I have discovered and documented wearing Rolex watches over the dozen decade:

Chuck Yeager of Edwards Air Force Base was first to break sound barrier in 1947 while wearing a Rolex Perpetual Oyster.

William Knight of Edwards Air Force Base Fastest manned flight of Mach 6.7 (4,250 Miles Per Hour ins X-15 which is nearly 7 times the speed of sound) in 1967.

John Glenn of Mercury 7. Wore a Pepsi and a yellow Gold Rolex GMT-Master.

Scott Carpenter of Mercury 7.

Walter Schirra of Mercury 8, Gemini 6A & Apollo 7. Wore a Pepsi GMT-Master.

Frank Borman of Gemini 7 and Apollo 8. Wore a Rolex Oyster Perpetual.

Pete Conrad of Gemini 5, Gemini 11, Apollo 12, Skylab 2.

Richard Gordon Jr. of Gemini 11 and Apollo 12.

Jack Swigert of Apollo 13 (Wore his Pepsi GMT-Master to Moon).

James Lovell was a U.S. Navy Test Pilot and went onto NASA to participate in Gemini 7, Gemini 12, Apollo 8 & Apollo 13.

Stuart Roosa of Apollo 14 (Wore Pepsi GMT-Master to Moon).

Dr. Edgar Mitchell of Apollo 14 (Wore Pepsi GMT-Master to Moon).

Alan Shepard of Mercury 3 & Apollo 14 (Worn A Pepsi-GMT Master on Cape Canaveral & Possibly To The Moon).

Ronald Evans of Apollo 17 (Wore a Pepsi GMT-Master to Moon).

Eugene Cernan of Gemini 9A, Apollo 10 & Apollo 17 (Wore a Pepsi GMT-Master Outside Space Suit and Possibly To The Moon).

Lloyd Blaine Hammond of 1991 Space Shuttle. Discovery Mission STS-39, and 1994 Space Shuttle Discover STS-94.

Dr. Leroy Chaio (Wore Pepsi GMT-Master on 3 Space Shuttle Missions and while Commander of the International Space Station Expedition 10).

Christopher Kraft founding NASA flight director.

Michael Collins of Apollo 11 wore a Rolex Turn-O-Graph, as well as a yellow gold Rolex Day-Date.

Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 wore a Rolex SEA-DWELLER.

Fred Haise of Apollo 13 as seen in this story wearing a yellow gold Rolex Datejust.

Albert Scott Crossfield who was an X-15 NASA spaceplane test pilot.

Philip from Moonwatch Universe also discovered the following Astronauts wore Rolex: Scott Altman, Sonny Carter, Michael McCulley, and Drafyyd Williams (Canada).