An Inauspicious Start
By the end of 1966 the Gemini astronauts had shown that it was possible to link up with another spacecraft in space and to ‘walk’ in space. The stage was set for the third U.S. manned space flight program: Project Apollo.
On May 25, 1961, the President of the United States, Jack Kennedy had declared: “ I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
With this deadline in mind, the men in charge of America’s space program hurriedly prepared an Apollo spacecraft for a journey to the moon. The crew consisted of experienced astronauts Virgil Grissom and Edward White, and the novice, Roger B. Chaffee. But they never got a chance to show their skills. During a practice countdown on January 27, a fire broke out in the spacecraft apparently due to faulty electrical wiring, and the three men burned to death. The world was horrified.
It took the Americans 18 months to recover from this setback. In that time the interior of the spacecraft was redesigned to make it safer. On October 11, 1968, a Saturn 5 rocket blasted off into space. It carried Apollo 7,the first manned mission in the Apollo program to be launched.