Apollo 15 watch sells for US$1.6 million

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The Bulova Wrist Chronograph worn by Commander David Scott on the Moon(Credit: RR Auction)

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A unique relic of the Space Age went on the auction block at RR Auction this week with the Bulova wristwatch worn on the Moon in 1971 by Colonel David Scott as Commander of Apollo 15 sold for US$1,625,000. The Bulova Wrist Chronograph was carried on the mission's third surface EVA as a backup timepiece to the NASA-issue Omega watch worn on US manned missions. The personal property of Scott, it is the only watch to return from the Moon to remain in private hands.

The watch isn't much to look at with its battered Velcro band and heavy signs of wear and corrosion from time on the lunar surface and exposure to salt water after splashdown on return to Earth. However, it is a bit of history after being clearly visible on Scott's wrist in the famous photo showing him saluting the American flag on the Moon.

It was also a valuable piece of equipment on the mission because the third EVA was under considerable pressure as Scott and Jim Irwin had to manage their time and resources to ensure they completed their assigned tasks before rendezvousing with the orbiting Command Module that was their ride home.

Apollo 15 was the fourth lunar landing and the first long-stay mission that focused primarily on science. Flying from July 26 to August 7, 1971, its crew was Commander David Scott, Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin, and Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden, and was regarded by NASA as the most successful manned mission up to that time.

On July 30, Scott and Irwin landed in the rugged Apennine region near Hadley rille in Mare Imbrium. It was the first landing to carry the electrically-powered Lunar Rover, and was remembered by the public for the moment when Scott carried out the famous "Galileo test," where he dropped a feather and a hammer at the same time to prove that they fell at the same speed in a vacuum.

"The Bulova Lunar EVA (Wrist) Chronograph and attached Velcro wrist strap… was worn by me on the lunar surface during the third EVA of Apollo 15, and then in lunar orbit and return to Earth…" says Scott in a five-page letter of authenticity that accompanied the watch. "The primary use of the wrist chronograph on the surface of the Moon was to track… the elapsed time of consumables use (oxygen, water, and battery) in the Portable Life Support System (PLSS) backpack… Our mission was to basically double the capabilities and requirements of previous missions, including especially the duration of EVAs outside the Lunar Module… At the moment of liftoff, I was fully responsible for the mission and the safety of my crew… Among the decisions I made, the monitoring and use of time was perhaps the most important… Time is of the essence during human lunar expeditions – and exploration time on the surface is limited by the oxygen and water (for cooling) we can carry in our backpacks… Knowledge of precise time remaining was essential...as a backup to the standard issued Omega chronograph, I carried and used a Bulova chronograph on the lunar surface… this unique strap was… worn during… each of my three EVAs on the lunar surface."

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