REACH FOR THE MOON
Like the Soviet's Soyuz series, the Apollo program had a disastrous beginning. On 27 January 1967, an electrical fire erupted during an Apollo 1 training exercise just a month before its scheduled launch, killing astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee.
The Apollo program was grounded for more than a year until modifications made the spacecraft safer. Apollos 4, 5, and 6 were unpiloted flights designed to test the new systems and refine procedures for putting hardware into orbit. Their success led to the piloted Apollo 7 mission in October 1968, and the first lunar orbit by humans, in Apollo 8 in December 1968, which returned startling images of Earth from space. At least part of President Kennedy's goal had been realized.
On 3 March 1969, Apollo 9 tested rendezvous and docking procedures with the lunar module in Earth orbit. Two months later, Apollo 10 returned to lunar orbit to check the module's guidance and navigation systems. Astronauts Thomas Stafford and Eugene Cernan brought the lunar module to within 9 miles (15 km) of the first landing site, the Sea of Tranquillity, before firing their ascent engine and returning to the command module, piloted by John Young. The lunar surface was now within reach.