STRELA history,

ranges back to Russian chronograph models driven by the 1st Moscow Watch Factory caliber 3017, a lofty column wheel chronograph based on the Swiss Venus 150 / 152 calibers. The production equipment of the Venus 150/152 caliber was imported from Switzerland to the Soviet Union in the mid-fifties. The cal. 3017 movement manufactured on this equipment was a Soviet timekeeping product from the 1st Moscow Watch Factory (1.MWF, renamed to POLJOT after 1964), and one of the first chronograph movements produced in the Soviet Union.

Early STRELA models

were some of the first watches that incorporated this new 3017 Russian movement. (STRELA in Cyrillic > СТРЕЛА = arrow). The watches had two registers, 45 minute elapsed time and constant seconds hand and a central chronograph hand for measuring the elapsed seconds. The watches had a chrome plated case and a stainless steel snap case back. The first model was introduced around 1959 and at first, it was only available to the Soviet Air Forces (BBC) and a few higher-ranking officials. The childhood of STRELA was within the Soviet military and was based on the growing need for more precision in measuring time in the sky and on the field. These watches were official flight gear and objects of preference given to pilots and cosmonauts over a long period of time.

Strela design

The STRELA dial and hand design changed over time and came in quite a few versions and models, with tachymetric chapter rings, telemeter ring, with non-luminous and luminous dials. These various models were also issued under a few different names over time but today are all commonly called “STRELAs” by the informed Russian watch collectors. At first, there were Cyrillic “СТРЕЛА” models in the late sixties, then in the early seventies it was mainly the latin labeled “POLJOT” models, and after that in the later seventies the latin labeled “SEKONDA” appeared. Throughout this transformation, the STRELA became more and more available to a wider circle of people like scientists and members of the Russian Railway and so on. At a certain point, the watch was available to anyone who had the appropriate rubles. At the end of 1979 the total sum of produced STRELAs, (including СТРЕЛА, POLJOT & SEKONDA) reached 100.000 pieces.

STRELA on The Voskhod 1 Mission

Interesting movie about the Voskhod 1 mission preparations.

Voskhod 1 (RussianВосход-1Восход is Russian for Sunrise) was the seventh manned Soviet space flight. It achieved a number of “firsts” in the history of manned spaceflight, being the first space flight to carry more than one crewman into orbit, the first flight without the use of spacesuits, and the first to carry either an engineer or a physician into outer space. It also set a manned spacecraft altitude record of 336 km (209 mi).

The three spacesuits for the Voskhod 1 cosmonauts were omitted; there was neither room nor payload capacity for the Voskhod to carry them. The original Voskhod had been designed to carry two cosmonauts, but Soviet politicians pushed the Soviet space program into squeezing three cosmonauts into Voskhod 1. The only other space flight in the short Voskhod program, Voskhod 2, carried two suited cosmonauts — of necessity because it was the flight on which Alexei Leonov made the world’s first walk in space. (Source: Wikipedia)

Alexey Leonov – The Voskhod 2 EVA

Leonov spacewalk EVA

March 18, 1965 – the space exploration milestone by Leonov

Alexey Arkhipovich Leonov became the first human to walk in space (EVA). He was outside the spacecraft for 12 minutes and 9 seconds, connected to the craft only by a 5.35-meter tether. He achieved something no human ever achieved before. A milestone in space exploration never forgotten. Leonov was wearing STRELA’s during mission preparation, flight training, and missions.

Leonov’s spacewalk beats that of astronaut Ed White‘s by three months. Leonov’s Voskhod capsule carried two men, like Gemini, but the Soviets constructed an inflatable airlock for Leonov’s spacewalk. There were tense moments when Leonov found his space suit too rigid to reenter the airlock. Leonov bled the air out of his suit but was barely able to return. Later, a malfunction of the automatic landing system forced Leonov and his crewmate to land in the Ural mountains and deep snow, with wolves growling and scratching at Voskhod’s partly open hatch.

is another brave man to mention. A true Soviet hero who was the first cosmonaut to travel into space more than once,  sadly he also became the first cosmonaut to die during a space mission on Soyuz-1 as well. He was an experienced cosmonaut on his second flight and had completed all his experiments successfully before returning to Earth. We have gathered some interesting facts about him in a blog entry here.

A series of misfortunes had occurred prior to the launch of the Soyuz-1 spaceship. Engineers found about 200 constructive defects before the flight, but the Soviet government did not agree to push the flight back against the background of the nation’s space rivalry with the United States.

Strela watch cosmonaut

Yuri Gagarin, the planet’s first cosmonaut, an international hero, was Komarov’s stand-in in the tragic flight. Gagarin was obviously aware of the technical flaws and of the pressure from the country’s political administration. He tried to use his reputation to stand up against that pressure. Gagarin said that he could replace Komarov in the flight in a hope that top officials would pay more attention to technical details and eventually decide to delay the launch of the spaceship.

Gagarin’s request was denied. Soyuz-1 blasted off with Komarov on board on April 23, 1967. The launch was normal, but one of the panels of the solar battery did not unfold after the spacecraft entered Earth’s orbit. The short-wave communication equipment went out of order soon afterward. Then within seconds of landing, just after he reentered the Earth’s atmosphere, the strings of the parachute intended to slow his descent apparently became tangled. The spaceship hurtled to the ground from four miles up. It is likely that Colonel Komarov was killed instantly on impact.

That is how Vladimir Komarov became the first tragic hero of the space race between the two superpowers. The race ended after Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin landed on the Moon. Neil Armstrong placed a small bag of memorial items on the Moon before leaving, a gesture to honor the Apollo-1 astronauts. In his 1989 book, “Men from Earth”,  Buzz Aldrin says that other items also included, were Soviet medals commemorating Cosmonauts Vladimir Komarov and Yuri Gagarin.

The Red Stuff documentary by Leo De Boer: Some footage from the tragic Soyuz 1 crash at 0:54:30.

is another cosmonaut worth to mention? He was onboard the Soyuz-28 mission together with Vladimir Remek. Gubarev and Remek – the first non-Soviet, non-American to travel to space – were launched aboard Soyuz-28 on March 2, 1978. The crew docked with the orbiting Salyut-6 space station. On Gubarev’s wrist, a black STRELA (labeled SEKONDA).

In 1979, three years after the Poljot 3133 caliber chronograph was introduced, the Poljot 3017 caliber went into the end of Production (EOP). It was the end of a great success story, but sadly the end of Russian 3017 column wheel chronograph.

Sothebys: December 11, 1993 at 10:15 am

Sotheby’s New York held a big auction named “Russian Space History”. Property of the industries, cosmonauts, and engineers of the Russian Space Program. Besides helmets, clothes and other memorabilia. Quite a few “flown” STRELA, SEKONDA and POLJOT watches were amongst these items. The auction was such a huge success, Sotheby’s gathered more Russian Space Program items and held a few more auctions in the following years.