Vladimir Komarov
IMAGE ABOVE: Vladimir Komarov commanded the ill-fated Soyuz 1.

In 1967, the Americans would launch their lunar vehicle—Apollo—and the Soviets would launch theirs—Soyuz.

It did not go well.

The new spaceship was not ready to go, in the view of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. But the Kremlin insisted on a launch. This would be the first manned Soviet spaceflight in nearly two years. Komarov knew of the problems but accepted the mission anyway. On this flight, Komarov would become the first cosmonaut to fly in space twice.

Soyuz 1 launched on April 24th with only Komarov aboard. During decent, a parachute failed and the vehicle hit the ground at high speed. Komorov was killed.

Apollo 1 Crew
IMAGE ABOVE: The crew of Apollo 1. From left to right —Ed White, Gus Grissom, Roger Chafee.
The first manned Apollo mission, a few months earlier, failed to even get off the ground. The 3-man crew were running tests inside the spacecraft on January 27 when a fire broke out inside the cockpit. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were killed.

Both the Soviet and American space programs were, for quite some time, grounded. And yet the deadline for a moon landing—the end of the decade—was fast approaching.