NASA's closely-guarded 'space secret' could bring $180,000

There are just a few hours left in the countdown to Bonhams' next blockbuster Space History sale, which is taking place at 1pm local time in New York City. And, appropriately enough, one of the auction's star lots is a highly coveted timepiece...

A stopwatch used to time the engine burns aboard Falcon, Apollo 15's Lunar Module, is appearing in the sale estimated at $120,000-180,000.

So why is it so valuable? Well, aside from its impeccable provenance and the fact it's been to the Moon and back, this stopwatch played a crucial role in Commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin's journey to and from the Moon.

Throughout all of mankind's missions to the Moon, it was vital that the Command and Lunar Modules' rockets fired at precisely the right moments. Anything else could result in a disastrous change of course.

In other words, it's fair to say that Scott and Irwin's lives depended on the accuracy and inner workings of this small stopwatch - a fact that will be sure to draw bidders at the auction, later today.

Bulova's stop watches were kept a secret by NASA during the Space Race...

The specialised timepiece was not only carried to the lunar surface and back, but was also used to time the duration of the mission's critical Descent Orbit Insertion (DOI) manoeuvre, which had to be terminated within exactly 0.3 seconds to ensure that Falcon didn't crash into the Moon.

It was feared that Scott's standard-issue Omega Speedmaster watch wouldn't be up to the job, so this Bulova stopwatch was obtained from the manufacturer via a friend of Scott's. With its bright, clear dial and large plungers and crowns the watch proved well suited to the job.

As it happens, Bulova stopwatches had a "secret" history at NASA for many years. NASA deliberately withheld the manufacturer's name to avoid commercialisation of the watches, and Bulova's Accutron clock was an integral part of NASA's computer systems.

What's more, a Bulova timer was left by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin following Apollo 11's landing in the Sea of Tranquility to control transmissions of data back to Earth.

Needless to say, these timepieces played a huge and vital part in golden days of the Space Race - and it's pretty unlikely that any other stopwatch of its kind will again come to market.

The stopwatch's reverse is engraved with Scott's initials, "DRS", and will appear for sale with a provenance note signed by Scott, its original box and papers.

Watch this space for the results from Bonhams' New York Space History auction.


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