Apollo 10 was a complete success. Image Credit: NASA
50 years ago, the Apollo 10 crew flew within 9 miles of the Moon's surface a mere two months before Apollo 11.
While it was Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin who ultimately took the first tentative steps on to the surface of our lunar neighbor, the crew of Apollo 10 had previously come tantalizingly close.
On May 18th 1969, Eugene Cernan, John Young and Thomas Stafford blasted off from the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida on what was essentially a 'dress rehearsal' for a lunar landing.
Their trip to the Moon was the same as Apollo 11's in almost every way aside from the fact that, instead of landing, the Apollo Lunar Module only flew to within around 9 miles of the Moon's surface before returning to the command and service module.
Cernan jokingly claimed that NASA had even taken the precaution of under-fuelling the Lunar Module just in case he and Stafford got any ideas about attempting to land.
"A lot of people thought about the kind of people we were: 'Don't give those guys an opportunity to land, 'cause they might!'" said Stafford.
The Apollo 10 crew returned to Earth on May 26th and Apollo 11 launched a mere two months later.
"This is the greatest honor of my life," Stafford said upon receiving the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. "I am very proud to have contributed to our nation's future in space and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the beginning of America's venture into the new and endless frontier."