Astronaut Mike Massimino Explains Why His Omega X-33 Was Crucial in Space

Astronaut Mike Massimino has flown two shuttle missions, STS-109 and STS-125; performed four spacewalks and even sent the first tweet ever from space. He’s now a New York Times bestselling author and mechanical engineering professor at Columbia University.

He’s also a watch enthusiast who wears his flown Omega X-33 daily.  SHIFTed had the opportunity to speak with the astronaut about the timepieces he used on the shuttle missions, NASA and Speedmasters.  

The Omega X-33 on your wrist, where did that come from? Was that issued to you?  

The way it works with the government is, there are rules of what you can accept as a government employee, just kind of standard rules, and so an Omega watch as a gift is way over the limit of what we’re allowed to accept. It’s a $20 limit on what we’re allowed to accept, but they allowed us to purchase the watches and then we could keep them!

If we didn’t want to purchase a watch, they would give us one to use for the flight but you had to turn it back in when the mission ends. So for my first flight I was issued a watch to fly with and the government purchased those watches for us just like any other piece of equipment. This one I bought prior to my second mission. NASA sold it to me.

Was the watch that was issued to you on your mission the Moonwatch? A three-register Speedmaster?

It wasn't actually the moonwatch, it was the same as this one [holds his wrist up, bearing an X-33].

What role did the watch play in the mission?

Tell time [chuckles]! Time is really important in space. We time just about everything: rendezvous burns, robot arms, how long it takes mechanisms to move, opening and closing  the doors of the shuttle. We used our watches and little egg timers. This watch was a great way to do all that.

Massi2.jpgMassimino waves to the crew (Courtesy of Mike Massimino)

This watch also has something called mission time. The time we go by on the shuttle missions is different than the time they go by on the space station, which is GMT time. For the shuttle missions we use “mission elapsed time,” so everything in the flight plan is based on mission elapsed time. This time is launch time, zero, plus the time that elapses over the mission.

Were you allowed to bring your own watches on the mission? Even if they weren't rated for it?

I think we were allowed to bring four watches on the shuttle; I didn't fly as a station crewmember so I don’t know about them. I flew with a couple of X-33s which I bought from NASA, and then I brought a few extra watches that I had lying around.

Do you see your flown X-33 as a piece of space history? Will it go to a museum after you’re done with it?

No, I’m hanging onto it until I’m dead! And I’ll hand it down to a relative or friend when I’m ready. It’s more of a personal item, something I purchased and something I wear everyday.

IMG_6969.jpgMike Massimo rocking his Omega X-33 (Courtesy of Cole Pennington)

Was this watch flown on both missions?

No, this one was only flown on the second one. I didn’t buy a watch on the first one; I handed them in when we got back. I promised myself when I got back the first time that if I ever got selected for another mission I’d buy a watch to bring.

Did you participate in any EVAs with this watch?

No, I don’t know if it could take the vacuum or if it was approved for an EVA. We were able to keep track of time outside the shuttle with a display control module on our chest that would give us different parameters. I know the moon guys wore theirs, but I did wear one on my wrist for launch. You could wear a watch during launch with a extension band. I did that. We never took watches on spacewalks, though.

Thank you for your time, Mr. Massimino — from the watch community and myself. I’m also a Speedmaster guy [holds up wrist bearing a Speedmaster MKII], maybe one day this one will also make it into space.

You never know! It could happen! If you go, you better take that one.

Cole Pennington
Cole Pennington

After spending half a decade exploring the far-flung corners of Asia as a travel writer, Cole returned to New York City where he’s currently enrolled at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. He writes about horology, classic motoring, exploration, and aviation. You’ll find funky and chunky ‘60s divers and far out ‘70s chronos on his wrist, and a modified '74 Datsun Z-car in his garage.

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Timely musings on vintage watches, men's fashion, cocktails, cigars, travel, cars, racing and more . . .

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