Who made the original Velcro bands for NASA?

26 May 2016

Who made the original Velcro bands for NASA?

One can read a lot of thoughts on watch forums about the provenance of NASA Velcro watchbands for the Omega Speedmaster, and many assume genuine OMEGA supplied ones were used on the U.S. space program. But to what extent did the companies most associated with the straps (Omega Watch Co. and American Velcro Inc.) have in making the real straps?

In-house production

Originally for the Mercury program no single watch was identified as the approved time-piece and for whatever watch was worn a simple elasticated metal bracelet worn over the pressure suit sleeve was sufficient.

 

Then, in 1964 when NASA selected the Omega Speedmaster chronograph, this was at first unknown to OMEGA Watch Co., and American Velcro Inc.  Neither company were making long watchbands for use with a spacesuit at the time, nor do I believe were they asked to supply any subsequently. The procurement request to OMEGA even specifically mentioned that bands not be supplied.

The watchband manufacturing task fell to NASA's Flight Crew Integration Division (FCID) which had workshops to make the chronograph watchbands "in house", as can been from the extract bleow:

Source: Section 8.4.2 (page 219) NASA-JSC Pilot Operational Equipment Handbook for Apollo and Skylab missions http://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/JSC-07210PltOpsEquip.pdf

In fact, these "NASA watchbands" were not exclusively for the chronograph, as they were also used for the lunar EVA cuff checklist, wrist mirror and later Skylab dosimeter.

Outsourced to Boeing

Later, in 1986, NASA's non-core support activities were outsourced to Boeing Aerospace Operations (BAO), who took over manufacture and supply of the watchbands as part of a Flight Equipment Processing Contract (FEPC). This transfer of responsibility for manufacture of the watchbands to BAO was noted in the NASA Blueprint SEB12100030 as FEPC Contract no. NAS9-17540.

Source: NASA Space News Roundup, Vol.25 No. 1 (Jan 10 1986)

Production seems to have petered out during the Shuttle era, because other watches could be worn on the Space Shuttle, and the chronograph was fitted to the EMU glove directly. 

Nevertheless, the Velcro strap was endorsed as a "crew preference item" for those who wanted it (perhaps for the last time, Astronaut Dr. Franklin R. Chang-Díaz can be seen wearing one for 1998 Shuttle mission STS-91 here and here.) 

OMEGA specials

At about the same time as NASA stopped requiring the Velcro watchbands based on SEB12100030, OMEGA included a long generic hook and loop cinch strap along with a souvenir patch with the 20th Anniversary Omega Speedmaster special edition. 

 

Presumably owing to popular demand these hook and loop cinch straps could be bought separately direct from Omega stockists under OEM part number O93800006 with the compendious description "Velcro 145.0022 L. 50 CM".

 

These types of OMEGA watchbands do occasionally appear in some museum displays of flown Omega Speedmasters, which might account for some of the confusion over whether they were ever used by NASA astronauts. OMEGA do now include a handsome long Velcro watch strap in their Omega Speedmaster presentation box, and as a nod to the history of the Speedmaster it is indeed an attractive accessory. Even so, they are different enough not to be mistaken for flown examples, which the following website documents very well

http://spaceflownartifacts.com/flown_timepieces.html