There’s no denying that the United States started off on the back foot in the Space Race. Since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, America had to endure a string of Soviet space victories, from satellites, to animal cosmonauts like Laika the dog, and finally in 1961 Vostok 1 put Yuri Gagarin in space first and brought ticker tape parades to Red Square. Four years and propaganda victory after victory for communism, and America was desperate to start closing the gap. By early 1962, NASA’s fledgling Mercury program had sent astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom into suborbital flight, but nearly a year after Gagarin’s mission the US had still not sent a man into true orbit. All that changed, however, on February 20 with the launch of Friendship 7 and its pilot Colonel John Glenn.
Glenn’s ride into space, the Mercury-Atlas Launch Vehicle, was the most powerful rocket ever designed at the time, and the Friendship 7 module was its first human payload. The base design, however, was taken from the Atlas ICBM- America’s first, strongest line of attack in the growing Cold War. The capsule, however, was completely bespoke for spaceflight, with every component purpose-built for the mission. Except for one- the backup mission timer.
During his three historic orbits around the world, Colonel Glenn had strapped to the outside of his spacesuit a Heuer 2915A stopwatch. A two-register dial with 12-hour and 60-minute subdials, it’s a relatively standard, easy to read layout, perfect for the mission timer routine. A single black leaf-style hand dominates the main dial, with markers down to 1/5 second. Along the top end, a large onion crown allows for easy winding, and a single pusher controls all chronograph functions.
The 2915A was never produced in high numbers, and as time has gone on they have gone from scarce to nearly impossible to find. As such, it’s difficult to assign a market value to this piece, but if one does come up for sale it’s definitely worth a look as a piece of space history. If the design and history really captivates you, there is another option. TAG Heuer released the Carrera 1887 SpaceX in 2012 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s- and Heuer’s- achievement. The Carrera 1887 SpaceX takes its design cues directly from the 2915A, and features an image of the Friendship 7 capsule on both the dial and across the display caseback. For those interested, the limited edition Carrera can usually be found for around $6000.