Last weekend saw a pivotal moment in the field of space exploration, when the world's first space tourist began his journey to the new International Space Station (ISS). As the only chronograph flight-qualified by the U.S. and Russian space agencies, the OMEGA Speedmaster Professional X-33 is on hand to count every second of this memorable event.
Space tourism - once a mere dream for the future - now becomes reality, though the 20 million-dollar price tag for the first return ticket still remains beyond the means of most people. However, one item of the standard equipment issued to this extraordinary tourist can be purchased over the counter from any of the world's prestige watch retailers: The OMEGA Speedmaster X-33 chronograph.
The world's first fare-paying tourist in space is Mr Dennis Tito, a 60 year-old former aerospace engineer and founder of a multi-billion dollar pension investment firm. Tito was presented with his Speedmaster X-33, developed specifically for space use in conjunction with astronauts and pilots and tested on board the MIR space station, at an official reception together with fellow crew members, commander Talgat Musabaev and cosmonaut Yuri Baturin. As part of their training, the crew participated in a course designed to familiarise them with the watch's numerous functions: dual analogue and digital display with backlight for excellent night legibility, a powerful 80dB alarm which meets NASA's strict requirements, a mission elapsed time function - indispensable for timing all flight operations - with its own separate alarm, Universal Time indication (also with alarm) as well as a chronograph and countdown timer. Thanks to the use of high-tech, robust yet lightweight materials such as titanium and kevlar, the X-33 can easily stand up to the tough conditions that prevail in space.
To fulfil his long-held dream of spaceflight, Dennis Tito offered to finance an entire mission to the MIR space station. However, due to the decision to take MIR out of service and bring the station back down to Earth, he was instead given the opportunity to fly to the new International Space Station. Tito will be the third crew member of mission ISS 2S, the purpose of which is to replace the Soyuz capsule that acts as a "lifeboat" for the resident crew on board the ISS. To ensure maximum safety, this capsule is renewed every six months, with the mission crew returning in the old capsule. Experienced mission commander Musabaev has spent a record-breaking 333 days on board the MIR space station and conducted a total of seven EVAs (extra-vehicular activity). He also has his own special association with OMEGA, having been one of the crew who presented the Speedmaster X-33 to the world via a live satellite link-up with MIR in 1998. He is accompanied by cosmonaut Yuri Baturin, who gained first-hand experience of such "taxi" missions on his first mission to space aboard Soyuz TM28 in 1998, returning with Soyuz TM 27.
Following the controlled re-entry of MIR into the Earth's atmosphere last month and its subsequent destruction in the Pacific Ocean, the ISS now becomes the platform for space research in the early 21st century and will accommodate a permanent crew of up to seven people for periods of between three and six months once complete. With the OMEGA Speedmaster Professional X-33 as part of their standard equipment, every visitor to the ISS will take with them a quality timepiece with proven reliability that embodies of 150 years of watchmaking know-how.
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