What exactly was it going to take for America to beat the Soviets to the moon? Cold War tensions persisted, as rumours circulated that the Soviets were preparing to send an unmanned spacecraft to the moon. Nasa quickly developed the Gemini program, sending astronauts into orbit around the Earth to practice critical manoeuvres for the eventual trip to the moon. Ed White became the first American to walk in space, an experience so exhilarating that, when Houston ordered him back in the space craft, he replied, ‘Not yet!’.
Nasa’s next-generation spacecraft, Apollo 1, was meant to dramatically launch the new era. Virgil Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were Apollo’s very first crew. On a cool January day in Florida, in 1967, the three men suited up for a pre-launch training run in the new command capsule. Two and a half hours through the training, somewhere in the closed capsule, a fire broke out. The hatch design opened inwards and all three men perished. Mission control was powerless. The disaster shook the nation and left the future of Apollo, Nasa and the entire race to the moon in doubt. The cost perhaps was too high.