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Who Actually Owns the NASA Moon and Space Watches? Maybe Not Who You Think

July 20, 2019

BY Jared Paul Stern

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Among all the increasingly valuable original Omega Speedmaster watches, the true ‘holy grails’ are of course the ones that have actually been worn on the surface of the Moon – or at least in space. Conventional wisdom says that the true lunar-worn watches will never end up in private hands, on the grounds that since they were issued by NASA and therefore remain government property. However, as you’ll see further down, it’s no longer quite that simple. 

NASA

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The Missing NASA Speedmaster Watches

Of course Speedys aren’t the only timepieces that have been to outer space, and any of the space-worn watches that were privately purchased by astronauts wouldn’t be considered government property regardless. And the most famous Moon watch of them all – the one worn by Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 – is missing, which raises the possibility that it could turn up for sale some day, no doubt giving the record set by Paul Newman’s personal $17.8 million Rolex Daytona a run for its money. 

NASA

 

In 1971, Aldrin was instructed to send the watch to the Smithsonian after NASA inked a deal with the institution to display key items from its missions. Aldrin signed a chit saying it had indeed been sent there; however the watch never arrived. The Smithsonian does have Neil Armstrong’s Speedy, which he famously left in the lunar capsule, as well as the one worn by Michael Collins, who stayed in orbit during Apollo 11.

The museum is also in possession of Gordon Cooper’s Gemini 5 Omega Speedmaster, the only one in the collection on a metal bracelet. However those are just three of the more than 50 watches that NASA donated to the Smithsonian in the 1970s, all of them of course (if you’ll pardon the pun) now worth an astronomical sum. And even more interesting: seven of them have been stolen while on loan to other museums. We’d wager that at least some of those are probably in the hands of some rather unscrupulous collectors. 

NASA

So, Who Owns The NASA Watches?

Could any of the watches still be in the hands of the astronauts? It’s possible. And if so, they might even be able to keep them – or sell them. That’s because of a legal action filed by the U.S. government against Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who tried to sell a camera he kept from the mission in a Bonhams auction in 2011. Eventually he was forced to return it to NASA because the government had no record that they’d transferred ownership of it to Mitchell. 

However in 2012, Barack Obama signed a new bill into law guaranteeing the “full ownership rights” of most anything the crew members of the Apollo, Mercury, and Gemini missions still had in their possession, with the exception of moon rocks and spacesuits. With Omega Speedmaster prices on the rise and higher than ever, this issue still generates plenty of controversy, arguably now more than ever before due to the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.

NASA

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