The 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SPEEDMASTER and a conversation with General Thomas Stafford

Recently in New York City, Omega held an event to celebrate 60 years of the Speedmaster. On hand that evening was Astronaut and General Thomas Stafford. Many thanks to Omega for providing a transcript of the evening’s talk with General Stafford.

By Josh Shanks
Managing Editor US

For those unfamiliar, Thomas Stafford was a NASA astronaut that flew on Gemini, Apollo, and Apollo-Soyuz missions. General Stafford has a rich history is space starting in 1962, when he was selected to participate in NASA’s astronaut program. In 1965, he was the pilot of Gemini 6, the first flight to rendezvous in space. In 1966, he commanded Gemini 9, with Gene Cernan. In 1969, he was commander of Apollo 10, paving the way for men to land on the moon. Thomas Stafford was also the commander of the Apollo-Soyuz test project, a joint space flight culminating in the first greeting in space between astronauts and cosmonauts. In total, he participated in four space missions.

Intro from David Cisco: Good evening, my name is David Cisco I am here with my good friend General Tom Stafford. You have heard a lot of the introductions and I would like to ask General Stafford several questions, but I first want to tell you a little bit about him. Before I do that I will tell you a little bit about myself. I was hired by NASA Ground Engineering and I moved to Houston in 1968. With the lunar module, I worked on the ground simulation testing. The awards I won were the Skylab Emergency Thermal Shield Development Team award and the Silver Snoopy award. As you know OMEGA won the Snoopy Award in 1970. My Snoopy award was given to me by Ellen B Shepherd, the 4th man to walk on the moon.

General Stafford on the other hand, graduated from the US Naval Academy with honors; he came on board in 1962, the second group of astronauts that were hired. He’s a 3-star general, he has 5 honorary doctorate degrees and too many awards and accolades to mention tonight, so we are not going to do that. But I will say that he flew on four significant missions: Gemini 6 in 1965, which was very important because it was one of the first rendezvous in space. General Stafford was a commander on Gemini 9 in 1966, which was also a very important rendezvous for the Apollo.

Then in May of 1969, he flew around the moon and back. His last and final mission was on the Apollo-Soyuz test mission, the first international handshake in space, where he shook hands with Alexey Lenov, who still remains one of his best friends to this day. He has rendezvoused 6 times in space, which is not an easy task. He has logged 507 hours and 43 minutes in space, he’s flown 127 different fixed wing and helicopters. He’s qualified to fly in four different space crafts; you are amongst an American hero. Let’s hear it for General Stafford.

David Cisco: In interest of time, General Stafford how are you tonight?

General Stafford: It’s great to be here, especially for the 60th Anniversary of the Speedmaster, which I always had with me in space. OMEGA received the Snoopy award in recognition of Apollo 13 – I am sure a lot of you have seen the movie or read the book. They didn’t have any electrical power; all they had was a radio receiver so we had to use a lunar module for maneuvers but with no guidance on it.

With an OMEGA watch, they could align to the Earth, thrust for so many seconds and we could track their progress. It was probably one of our finest hours in space. So for that OMEGA received the Silver Snoopy award.

DC: You ended up being the commander of Gemini-9, tell us about that.

TS: I was actually moved up from the back up crew to the primary crew. And then we brought the backup crew from Apollo 12 who was Jim Lowell and Buzz Aldrin. And they were brought in to be our backups.

DC: General, Gene Cernan was your pilot on that mission, he was also on your mission to Apollo 10 in 1969 and he was a friend of ours- we just went to his funeral a couple of months ago. He’s gone but most certainly will not be forgotten. General Stafford, when you went to the moon, you traveled about 240,000 miles to get there, so you're 8 miles over the moon and you stopped because that’s what the mission required . I have to tell you General, if that was me or a couple people in this room, they would probably say, "well we are here, what were you thinking"?

TS: There was never any question about that decision. Those Navy planes are real heavy and the lunar modules are overweight. I was too heavy to land and my middle name isn’t Kamikaze. With a lightweight module 2 minutes later, Neil Armstrong went the last 9 miles down, but he landed with only 17 seconds of fuel, so I would have been out of fuel. There was just no way I was going down.

DC: General Stafford didn't walk on the surface of the moon, but he paved the way for every one of the 12 astronauts that walked on the surface. The Apollo- Soyuz in 1975 was their last mission. It was the very first international handshake with Alexey Lenov, who is one of your best friends. As a matter of fact General Stafford has two daughters and two adopted sons from Russia. We spent some time with them in Houston. Tell us about them.

TS: Well this was the height of the Cold War, when President Nixon and Brezhnev signed the documents in Moscow in 1972 and did one of the rendezvous, and docking the Apollo and Soyuz in 1975, so it was really unique. In fact, I needed a Russian professor; my Russian professor is here. He did great with my Oklahoma accent and taught me how to teach Russian. As it turns out his son is born on my birthday and is my godson. Lenov and I hit it off really well, never talked politics, it was always professionalism, and it was all a series of Soviet test pilot.

Audience Q2: From my understanding NASA went into space with an 8-bit computer.

TS: That is correct, 8-bit and 4,096 words, so I had 32 kilobytes.

DC: It’s like the Soyuz, the docks and the progress, the docks to the international space station. We fly craft if it’s Space-X or whatever we use the robotic arm, when we let them dock, we are birthing them. I wanted to wrap this up, but this is [an image] of Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, it’s a funny picture. I took this photo with him in Houston and we were in front of the OMEGA display. I tried to convince him to try to wind his watch because I was going to switch it and I think he knew it. We know going forward, tomorrow and beyond, there will be a Speedmaster on the wrists of the crewmembers. 

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