During the Korean war Lt. Commander Malcolm Scott Carpenter would fly reconnaissance missions. Later Carpenter would become a test pilot and in 1959 be selected as one of the Mercury seven astronauts.
NASA had not standardised a single watch brand for their space flight missions at this point, and let the pilots themselves decide and procure what watch would be best. According to Carpenters daughter, her father was a bit of a watch enthusiast and had been impressed by Breitling’s easy to read dial and handy slide rule on their Navitimer model. Carpenter contacted the U.S. distributor, Wakmann watch co., to enquire if they could do a special order Navitimer; with a modified larger bezel size, slide rule and most importantly a 24 hour dial (When in space PM and AM can be rather hard to determine). The Breitling family were very enthusiastic about the project and got working on Carpenters request.
On March 15, 1962 Carpenter was designated pilot for the MA-7 mission scheduled for 24th May. He received the special Breitling only 5 days prior to his mission, but happy with the result he wore it to work, making it the first Swiss made chronograph in space.
Carpenter survived the mission and the watch preformed well, but due to landing in the ocean the watch got saturated and pretty much died. It was sent back to Breitling, but it was easier for Breitling to send a new watch rather than repair the salt water damaged specimen.
The original watch sort of vanished after that, but had probably ended up in Willy Breitling’s drawer as a fun conversation starter at parties. His son Gregory who now owns the watch decided to show it off to the public on the 60’th anniversary of the flight.
Breitling was not only excited to be part of the project on good Merritt alone, they also realised it would be a great PR stunt and launched their new Navitimer Cosmonaut model, the main difference from the standard Navitimer being the 24hour dial. Not many have gone to space, but it’s proved a very useful watch for long haul pilots and anyone living beyond the arctic circle.
The Breitling Comonaute Navitimer utilised the Venus calibre 178 with a modified hour wheel like the watch service video below shows:
Internet gossip would state Carter already favoured the Navitimer during the Korean war while being a fighter pilot… But he was not a fighter pilot during the conflict and the Breitling Navitimer was not launched before 1954; a year after the Koran war ended;)