By early 1969 the Apollo Lunar Module was finally ready for action but there were still two crucial qualifying missions needed before the first attempt to put a man on the Moon

docked in orbit

David Scott stands halfway out of the hatch of the Apollo 9 Command Module, 190km (118 miles) above the Earth. The body of the LM Spider dominates the foreground.

The history of spaceflight is full of "what ifs". If NASA had stuck with its original rosters, the crew of Apollo 9 should have flown on Apollo 8, circling the Moon at Christmas 1968. As it was, perhaps due to the fact that they had been training to fly the LM for more than two years, James McDivitt, David Scott, and Russell Schweickart were shifted back by one flight, lifting off with the first complete Apollo spacecraft on 3 March 1969, but destined to go no further than Earth orbit. With Apollo 8's lunar mission making plans for a further LM test in high Earth orbit redundant, this meant that there would be only one more mission - a dress rehearsal in lunar orbit -before the first landing attempt. It also put McDivitt's backup crew - led by Neil Armstrong - in line for a landing attempt aboard Apollo 11.

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