The United States lost some of its astronauts for the first time as Apollo was nearing completion. It happened on January 27, 1967, when a test for the first manned Apollo mission was scheduled. The command module caught fire, trapping three astronauts inside. The intense investigation and the modifications to Apollo delayed the program for more than a year.
The next manned mission left off on October 11, 1968. It did not start with the lunar module and remained in Earth orbit to conduct tests on Apollo's other components. The cabin for the astronauts was larger than Gemini's but still the eleven days of the mission took their toll on the astronauts. They complained about the bad food, and everyone developed a cold.
Apollo 8 that left ground on December 8, 1968, was the first space ship that took astronauts around the moon. Originally a test of the lunar module in Earth orbit was intended but plans had to be changed when it became obvious that the Soviets were catching up. The lunar module for Moon landings still was not included. Instead the service propulsion system for navigation around the moon was tested.
Two missions with further tests followed. Then the time to make history has come for the crew of Apollo 11. On July 20, 1969, four days after lift-off, Neil Armstrong put his feet on the lunar surface speaking his famous words: \"That\'s one small step for man . . . one giant leap for mankind.\" He and Edwin Aldrin spent 21 hours on the surface of the Moon. They left a flag of the United States of America and a plaque with the following words engraved: "HERE MEN FROM PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON. JULY 1969 AD WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND." Four days later they returned to Earth as heroes.
With Apollo 11 the objectives of the program were basically met. The USA not only won the race against the Russians they also proved that it was generally possible to reach other worlds. Even if there is going to be a Mars mission it will never overshadow the great achievement of making the first trip to another planet. It will just be another step of mankind on its way to the stars.
Six other Moon missions were scheduled. One of them never reached its goal. Tragedy almost struck on Apollo 13 when on oxygen tank in the service module exploded within 321,860 kilometers of Earth. The only way to safe the lives of the astronauts was to abort the moon landing and to return to Earth by using the gravity forces of the Moon. The command module of the space ship was almost completely inactive so the crew had to spend most of the time in the lunar module. After four tense days in space Apollo 13 eventually returned back to Earth.
Apollo 17, the last mission, was launched on December 7, 1972. Like the crews of the two preceding missions they had a moonrover that allowed them to get a better overview of the lunar surface. The Apollo Program ended as Apollo 17 splashed into the pacific on December 19, 1972.