When astronauts venture outside on the first commercial spacewalk next year, they will be able to mark the time they make history with a special set of wristwatches.
IWC Schaffhausen, the Swiss watch brand known for its luxury timepieces, has created and donated a series of four space-themed chronographs to support the privately funded Polaris Dawn mission. The Pilot's Watch Chronograph Edition "Polaris Dawn" was designed to meet the needs of the flight, which in addition to including a first-of-its-kind spacewalk, aims to fly higher than any prior crewed mission has reached in Earth orbit.
Targeted for launch during the first quarter of 2023, the Polaris Dawn astronauts will spend up to five days aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft conducting research to aid in the understanding of the effects of spaceflight and radiation on human health. On their return to Earth, the crew's wristwatches will be auctioned to support finding treatments for childhood cancer and other pediatric diseases.
Related: Q&A with the Polaris Dawn crew
"We are excited to have IWC Schaffhausen on board for our upcoming Polaris Dawn mission. Together, we will not only expand our understanding of what's possible in human spaceflight, but also support St. Jude Children's Research Hospital as it strives to improve global survival rates for childhood cancer here on Earth," Jared Isaacman, Polaris Dawn commander and the billionaire entrepreneur funding the Polaris Program behind the mission, said in a statement.
IWC Schaffhausen designed the Pilot's Watch Chronograph Edition "Polaris Dawn" to feature a bright white ceramic case, which is set against a dark blue lacquered dial printed with a starscape and the Polaris Dawn mission patch. The watch's inner case is made of soft iron to protect against magnetic fields, and its glass crystal is secured against displacement by drops in air pressure, such that the chronograph can be used throughout all of the planned mission events.
"The watches are sealed and conformed to space flight (and walk) requirements," an IWC Schaffhausen spokesperson confirmed in an email to collectSPACE.com. "So [they can be used] both inside and outside the spacecraft."
Each of the watches' case backs is engraved with the name of one of the crew, including Isaacman, pilot Scott "Kidd" Poteet and mission specialists Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon.
The Polaris Dawn chronographs are similar in style to a previous set of four watches that IWC Schaffhausen made for Inspiration4, the 2021 "first all-civilian" orbital spaceflight that was also led and funded by Isaacman. The four Pilot's Watch Chronograph Editions that flew on that mission sold for $405,000 at auction, contributing to the more than $240 million that was raised by Inspiration4 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
"We are proud we have supported Inspiration4 and are looking forward to embarking on the next joint project. Giving back to the community is a core part of the Polaris Dawn mission, and it's very much in line with our values at IWC Schaffhausen. I can't wait to see what we can achieve together," said Christoph Grainger-Herr, chief executive of IWC Schaffhausen.
If the IWC Schaffhausen Pilot's Watch Chronograph Edition "Polaris Dawn" does accompany the mission's crew members out on their spacewalk, it will join the small but growing group of wristwatches that have been worn by astronauts and cosmonauts in the vacuum of space. In addition to the Omega Speedmaster Professional, which was the first watch worn on an EVA (extravehicular activity) in 1965, other timepieces in the category include the Glycine Airman, a Bulova prototype (worn on the moon), the Fortis Official Cosmonauts, a Fiyta chronograph (worn by Chinese taikonauts), the Seiko Spacewalk Springdrive, a Konstantin Chaykin chronograph and the Panerai PAM 210 Radiomir.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.