John Glenn's Heuer


Measuring time has been a critical factor in men's journeys into space, as it was also critical in man's early journeys across the oceans or the continents by railroad. Whether executing precise maneuvers or navigating the journey, it has been critical for space travellers to be able to time events and to know the time of day (in a realm in which there are no days). Conditions demand timepieces that will be rugged, reliable and precise, and easy to read and operate.

Those who are interested in the history of space travel, and those who are interested in watches, have collaborated to identify the timepieces that were used on the space missions -- from the earliest Soyuz and Mercury missions to the current Space Shuttle and International Space Station. According to the conventional wisdom, (a) Yuri Gagarin, the first human to orbit the earth, wore a Russian-made chronograph (Sturmanskije), which became the first watch worn in space, and (b) Scott Carpenter, America's fourth astronaut, was the first to wear a Swiss (or non-Russian) watch in space. My research suggests that this conventional wisdom is incorrect, and in fact, John Glenn wore a Heuer stopwatch, strapped to his wrist, when he orbited the earth. Accordingly, the correct sequence of Astronauts, Spacecraft, Missions and Watches first worn in space is as follows:


Spacecraft / Astronaut / Date
Accomplishment / Duration (HH:MM:SS)

Yuri Gagarin (USSR) / Vostok 1 / April 12, 1961

first man in space; completed one orbit of the earth

Sturmanskije chronograph

Alan Shepard (US) / Freedom 7 / May 5, 1961

first American in space; reached space, but did not orbit (00:15:22)


Gus Grissom (US) / Liberty Bell 7 / July 21, 1961

reached space, but did not orbit (00:15:37)


John Glenn (US) / Friendship 7 / February 20, 1962

first American to orbit the earth; three orbits (04:25:33)

Heuer Stopwatch, Reference 2915A

Scott Carpenter (US) / Aurora 7 / May 24, 1962

three orbits of the earth (04:56:05)

Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaut

Wally Schirra (US) / Sigma 7 / May 24, 1962

six orbits of the earth (09:13:11)

Omega Speedmaster

This webpage presents conclusive evidence -- based on photographs in the NASA archives, records of the flight, and current and previous exhibits that show John Glenn's watch -- that John Glenn wore a Heuer stopwatch on his journey into space.

It is likely that collectors and enthusiasts will debate various aspects of this statement, including such matters as (a) whether a stopwatch is, in fact, a "watch"; (b) how and why this watch was selected for the mission; and (c) what were the "backup clocks" used on earlier and later missions. Others may question the importance of this stopwatch going into space, as compared with the Breitling and Omega chronographs used in the next missions. These are interesting matters for discussion -- at least among the small community that cares about the history of watches and chronographs, and particularly those worn in space.

I am happy to introduce the "Heuer" name -- with its rich history and reputation in sports and scientific timing -- into this discussion (or perhaps we should call it the "space race"), and to present the information and images that I have gathered. I will leave it for our readers to discuss this information and to place it into its proper historical perspective.

Jeff Stein, July 31, 2006.

Special Thanks to the people who contributed to this article. First, to Sheldon Smith. He visited the San Diego Air and Space Museum, armed with a camera in his Treo phone, and brought John Glenn's stopwatch onto the Internet, through posting a message and some photos on TimeZone's TAG-Heuer discussion forum. Thanks to Hans Schrag, who remembered seeing this watch on display in late 1960's and provided information about this and other watches that may have been used on the early Mercury flights. Thanks to Chuck Maddox for providing information about the history of the Mercury and Apollo space programs (and the watches that were onboard), and for helping to unravel the mystery of John Glenn's Heuer. Thanks to Steve Smith, a UK Heuer collector, for providing photos of his Heuer Stopwatch, Reference 2915-A).

Copyright 2006; Jeffrey M. Stein, Atlanta, Georgia; All Rights Reserved

UPDATE (November 1, 2006) -- Since its first publication in July 2006, this webpage has received an extraordinary amount of attention -- from the media, from TAG-Heuer, from people interested in the early manned space flights, and from those who are interested in the watches that were used in space. Here are some of the media highlights since the publication of this webpage:

  • The November 2006 issue of International Watch magazine broke the story of how John Glenn's Heuer was discovered. Here is a PDF Version of the cover page of International Watch, and the story of how this piece of history was discovered.
  • On October 26, 2006, TAG-Heuer issued a global press release, announcing its newly-discovered position as the manufacturer of the First Swiss Timepiece in Space. Here is a PDF Version of that Press Release.
  • On October 26, 2006, John Glenn's Heuer Stopwatch was the lead story on TAG-Heuer's website. You can click here to visit TAG-Heuer's Website, and read the company's perspective on this discovery.

Special thanks to two persons who have been responsible publishing the story of John Glenn's Heuer -- Gary George Girdvainis (Editor-In-Chief of International Watch) and Valentine Balmat (International Press Relations Manager for TAG-Heuer). This discovery has been an adventure, driven by your ideas and enthusaism; most exciting is the prospect that the adventure is only just beginning!

In order to continue to update this webpage, we have added some Frequently Asked Questions, at the bottom of this page. We hope that readers will continue to submit information and questions about John Glenn and his newly-famous Heuer Stopwatch.

John Glenn, shortly before the launch of MA-6, walking from crew quarters to the vehicle that will transport him to the launch-pad. Note the Heuer stopwatch, on Glenn's right wrist / forearm.

NASA caption: "View of Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr., Dr. William Douglas, Astronauts Flight Surgeon, and equipment specialist Joe Schmitt leaving crew quarters prior to Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) mission. Glenn is in his pressure suit and is carrying the portable ventilation unit." Date photograph taken -- 1962 February 20.

Click to see the NASA caption and database information for this photo or to see a close-up view John Glenn's stopwatch.

NASA caption: "View of Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr., Dr. William Douglas, Astronauts Flight Surgeon, and equipment specialist Joe Schmitt leaving Operations and Checkout Building prior to Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) mission." Date photograph taken -- 1962 February 20.

Click to see the NASA caption and database information for this photo.

NASA caption: "Overall view of astronaut John Glenn, Jr., as he enters into the spacecraft Friendship 7 prior to MA-6 launch operations at Launch Complex 14. Astronaut Glenn is entering his spacecraft to begin the first American manned Earth orbital mission."

Click to see the NASA caption and database information for this photo.

Having now determined that John Glenn was wearing a Heuer stopwatch on his wrist during his flight, we should now address the more difficult questions: Why was he wearing this stopwatch? What purposes did it serve? In a capsule with sophisticated instruments, why was it necessary for John Glenn to strap a stopwatch to his wrist? In short, just what was he timing with this stopwatch?

Perhaps we can begin to answer these questions by examining the instrument panel, to see what instruments were included in the Friendship 7 capsule (and what might have been missing). Above are diagrams of the Friendship 7 instrument panel, the top photo showing the entire instrument panel and the bottom photo showing the detail of the timing instruments. There are four timing instruments on the instrument panel of Freindship 7, as follows:

  • Time of Day Clock (analog display; continuous clock, with no time in / time out capability);
  • Time From Launch timer (digital display);
  • timer showing Retrograde Time (digital display); and
  • Time to Retrograde timer (digital display).

Turning to the official transcript of pilot communications from the flight (shown below), we find some interesting evidence regarding the timing instruments aboard Friendship 7. The first communication from John Glenn following the launch, three seconds into the flight, confirmed that "The clock is operating". This is the familiar first communication after liftoff, and we see similar communications from astronauts on other flights (for example, on MA-8, Wally Schirra's first communication is "I have the liftoff. Clock has started").

Continuing with the transcript from MA-6, the next series of communications regarding timing / clocks comes 17 seconds after launch. The Capsule Communicator tells Glenn to standby for the 20 second mark, he then says "2 . . . 1, mark", in order to tell Glenn exactly when the 20 second mark is occuring. Glann uses this 20 second mark as the signal to start his backup clock, and he then confirms "Backup clock has started." (This is similar to communications with Schirra, on MA-7, when the Capsule Communicator instructs Wally Schirra to "standby for 20 seconds"; at the 20 second mark, Schirra confirms that "Backup started and runing good"; and Schirra then confirms back with a "hack" at the 30 second mark).


Time of Communication
Duration of Communication (sec)




Capsule Communicator

3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . 0

00 00 03



Roger. The clock is operating. We're underway.

00 00 07


Capsule Communicator

Hear loud and clear.

00 00 08



Roger. We're programing in roll okay.

00 00 13



Little bumpy along about here.

00 00 15


Capsule Communicator


00 00 17


Capsule Communicator

Standby for 20 seconds.

00 00 19




00 00 20


Capsule Communicator

2 . . . 1, mark.

00 00 23



Roger. Backup clock is started.

00 00 32



Fuel 102-101 [percent], oxygen 78-100 [percent], amps 27.

00 00 39


Capsule Communicator

Roger. Loud and clear. Flight path is good, 69 [degrees].

00 00 43



Roger. Checks okay. Mine was 70 [degrees] on your mark.

00 00 48



Have some vibration area coming up here now.

00 00 52


Capsule Communicator

Roger. Reading you loud and clear.

00 00 55



Roger, Coming into high Q a little bit; and a little contrail went by the window or something there.

00 01 00


Capsule Communicator


But what was this "backup clock" that John Glenn started at the 20 second mark of his flight?

Close inspection of the Heuer stopwatch that Glenn is wearing before the flight confirms that this Heuer stopwatch served as the "backup clock" for the flight. Looking carefully at the stopwatch, in the first two photos on this page, you will see that as Glenn walked to the capsule, the stopwatch was not set to zero, rather the second hand sits at the 20 second mark. (Details from these two photos are shown below.)

So when Glenn confirms, at the 20 second mark of the flight, that he has started the backup clock, he is referring to the Heuer stopwatch strapped to his right wrist.



I have concluded that the official transcript of voice communications from the MA-6 mission, together with the photographs of John Glenn wearing the Heuer stopwatch as he approached and entered the capsule, establish conclusively that John Glenn used this Heuer stopwatch, Reference 2915-A, as the "backup clock" on the United States' first human orbital mission in space.


John Glenn's Heuer stopwatch is currently owned by the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, located in Washington, D. C. Since at least September 2005, the stopwatch has been on display at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. The photograph above shows the stopwatch, as it is currently being displayed in San Diego.

Questions have arisen as to how this stopwatch has recently appeared on display at the San Diego Air and Space Museum, but has not been displayed at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. in Washington, D.C. According to Hans Schrag, who worked for Heuer during the 1960's, this stopwatch was, in fact, on display in Washington, D.C. in the late 1960's. Before the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum had a permanent home (on the Mall in Washington), Hans visited a temporary display and was excited to see a display that included John Glenn's spacesuit and his Heuer stopwatch.

Regardless of when John Glenn's Heuer Stopwatch actually arrived at the San Diego Air and Space Museum, we know that it was featured as the "Artifact of the Month" for August 2005. Shown immediately below is the page that the Museum used for this "Artifact of the Month" display, or you can Click Here to see this display on the Museum's website.

John Glenn's stopwatch appears to be a standard Heuer stopwatch, Reference 2915-A. The stopwatch is attached to the wriststrap by a cloth bezel (and perhaps some adhesive at the back); the wriststrap appears to be elastic.

Above is the description of this stopwatch, from Heuer's 1961-62 catalog, along with an illustration of the watch. How fitting that Heuer referred to this one as a "Long Range Timer".

Shown below are photographs of two samples of this stopwatch. For additional photos of these stopwatches, including detailed photos of the case and movement, go to the Stopwatch Section of

The Mercury Program

NASA website for the Mercury Program

a history of the Mercury Program, including photo Galleries.

This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury

excellent history of the Mercury Program; written in 1966, and now available online

MA-6 -- The United States' First Manned Orbital Mission

NASA's website for MA-6

the oficial NASA website for the mission

NASA's Report on MA-6

comprehensive report (PDF) covering the preparation for, and results of, the Mission; includes diagrams and descriptions of the capsule, and a complete transcript of air-ground communications during the flight

Collections of Photographs

GRIN (Great Images In NASA)

NASA's comprehensive library of images

JSC Digital Image Collection

A searchable collection of images, from NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Photos relating to MA-6

A collection of NASA's photos and captions relating to MA-6.

Watches in Space

Wristwatches in Space

Chuck Maddox' timeline detailing the watches that were used in the space missions.


A beautiful website that covers the history of the Omega Speedmasters, with a particular emphasis on the Speedmasters worn in space..

Time in Space

An article by Steven J. Lundin, which appeared in International Wristwatch, Number 40 (1999).

Additional Information

Request for Information

If you can provide additional information regarding John Glenn and his Heuer, or other watches used on the early space msssions, please send an e-mail message to .

Some Frequently Asked Questions -- Since the Publication of this Webpage

(Last Updated, November 2006)

There seems to be some confusion about whether the two astronauts who flew prior to Glenn -- Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom -- wore watches on their missions. Do you have any update on that subject?

I am fairly certain that Shepard and Grissom did not wear watches during their flights. These first two manned flights were fairly short (at approximately 15 minutes each), and there just wasn't much for them to time or check.

I have examined dozens of photographs of these two astronauts -- on the days of their flights, walking to the launch pads, being inserted into the capsules, etc. -- and I see no evidence that either Shepard or Grisson wore a wristwatch, a stopwatch or a chronograph. I have read the reports of their flights, including the transcripts, and there are no references to watches or backup clocks. In addition, I have spoken with a representative of the Smithsonian, who has been on the job for over 20 years, and she has never heard of Shepard or Grissom wearing a watch.

So what is the source of this idea that other brands of watches were used on earlier flights (of Shepard and Grissom) and failed, and that NASA then selected a Heuer stopwatch.

Well, that's the story that the San Diego Air and Space Museum told, in its online presentation of John Glenn's stopwatch, but I haven't seen any evidence to support this story. Perhaps other brands of watches failed in testing, here on earth, but I would be very surprised if any other Swiss (or American) timepiece went into space before John Glenn's Heuer.

Do you believe that NASA procured Glenn's Heuer stopwatch, and tested and certified it for the mission, or is it more likely that Glenn procured the stopwatch and decided to use it during the flight?

There is the famous story about Glenn and his camera -- that he wanted to take a camera on the flight, so he went into a store and bought one. NASA engineers then modified the camera so that it could more easily be used on the flight, but everyone agrees that Glenn bought the camera and that's how it was selected for the flight. Things must have been very different back in 1962, in terms of how NASA and the astronauts went about procuring and testing the items that were used on the missions.

If I had to guess, I would think that this stopwatch might have been selected in much the same way -- by Glenn himself, rather than by NASA. Of course, NASA would have created the bezel and strap that allowed Glenn to wear the stopwatch during the flight. Still, it's also possible that NASA selected and procured the watch.

Have you spoken with John Glenn, to get his recollections of this stopwatch?

Not yet, but I am hoping to be able to do so.

What has been the reaction from the folks at TAG-Heuer?

As you might imagine, the reaction from TAG-Heuer headquarters in Switzerland has been nothing short of ecstatic. The people at TAG-Heuer cherish their history; they view the brand's history as a unique asset that sets them apart from other brands. More importantly, TAG-Heuer is seeking to draw from this heritage as it develops cutting-edge technologies and "avant garde" styles.

In certain realms, Heuer had a dominant position. For example, in 1960's automobile racing and rallying, no other brand had the status or accomplishments of Heuer . . . in the pits, as an "official timekeeper", and -- most importantly -- on the wrists of the racers and navigators, the Heuers were the timepieces that the "cool guys" wore and everyone wanted to wear. This was the era when McQueen, Siffert, Rindt and Lauda wore the Heuers, not because they were under contract, but because these watches really conveyed the spirit and passion of their sport. Talk with the club racers and pros from this era, and they will tell you that "everyone" wanted the Heuers, because these watches were part of racing. This is history and romance that modern-day marketing people can only hope to have in their portfolio!

Interestingly, Heuer had the same dominant reputation in scientific timing and in stopwatches made for specific purposes. Study a Heuer stopwatch catalog, whether from the 1930's or from the 1960's, and you will be amazed at variety of stopwatches -- for time and motion study, for sailing, for parachuting, for film-making . . . even for chess matches! Split-second, 1/100th second, from one minute to 12 hours, no other company produced such a complete line of stopwatches.

Putting all this together, I believe that the TAG-Heuer folks view John Glenn's selection of a Heuer stopwatch as a part of their history that could have almost been expected. An adventurer who needed a stopwatch in 1962 surely would have wanted a Heuer! Of course, people at TAG-Heuer didn't know of this history until July 2006; now that they have recovered this chapter, I believe that they feel that it was always theirs. Maybe it's like finding a cherished and valuable possession that they never knew they owned . . . they never knew that it had been lost, but they are thrilled to have found it!

Have you had any reaction from the Omega crowd relating to the discovery that John Glenn was wearing a Heuer stopwatch?

The story of John Glenn and his Heuer stopwatch has been discussed on several internet discussion forums, in which Omega enthusiasts are active participants. For the most part, their reaction has been just about what you would expect: that it was only a stopwatch, not a real watch or chronograph; that it was not tested or certified by NASA; that it never returned to space; etc., etc. There is a fair amount of whining and denial here!

This reaction is a bit disappointing. Omega has an amazing heritage and list of accomplishments in the United States space program, from Mercury to Apollo to the Space Station, and everything and everywhere in between. If this were a contest, to annoint the dominant timepiece in space, we all know that it would be the Omega Speedmaster. Given this position, the Omega / NASA crowd seems rather grudging in accepting Heuer's accomplishment as the first Swiss timepiece in space. I mean, if this "watches in space" thing were a football game, the Omega Speedmaster wins by a lot of points. The Omega guys seem to be peeved that Heuer has scored some points and avoided the shut-out.

Have you discovered any more Heuer timepieces that were used during the space program?

Yes, I have found another Heuer stopwatch that was used for the Apollo 11 mission (the first manned exploration of the moon), but that story will have to wait for another day!!

Why do you think that John Glenn's Heuer Stopwatch was undiscovered for so many years?

We can't really say that the fact that John Glenn was wearing a Heuer stopwatch on his mission had not been "discovered" prior to July 2006. What we can say is the fact that John Glenn wore a Heuer stopwatch into space had not been publicized prior to July 2006. The explanation as to why this information was widely publicized in July 2006 is simple: We had the internet. How else could such information move from a museum visitor, to a watch discussion forum, to a watch enthusiasts' website, to a manufacturer, to a magazine, in a matter of days? We can't say exactly how many people may have know about John Glenn's Heuer prior to July 2006; but we know that this information is now widely available to anyone serach the internet for this type of information.

[last updated 06 November 01 / JMS]