On October 4th, 1957, the Soviets had launched Sputnik, which was the world's first artificial satellite and the first man-made object into space. This surprised and angered Americans, because space was the next frontier for them.
The Space Race Heats Up
With Russia's technology and ability to send Sputnik into space, this made Americans question the technological advances of Russia, and feared that they could have the power and ability to send nuclear missiles over to America. The Americans then decided to send their own satellite to space.
America's Successful Moon Landing
In 1958, America launched its first satellite, the Explorer I, which was designed by the U.S. Army under the direction of rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. During that same year, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a public order that went on to create the National Aeronautics and Space Administration agency, which is best known as NASA.
Unity of Space Explorations
From 1959 to March of 1961, the Soviets had done quite a bit in space. In 1959, they released a new satellite, Luna 2, which was the first probe to hit the moon. From 1960-1961 the Soviets had been testing ships that would carry humans into space. On May 5th, 1961,American Astronaut Alan Shepherd became the first American in Space, though not in orbit.
On July 16th, 1969, American Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins had started their Apollo 11 mission, also known as the first lunar landing attempt. They landed successfully on July 20th, and Armstrong would go on to be the first man to walk on the moon's surface - famously saying "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
By landing on the moon, the United States had effectively won the space race. The Soviets had had four failed attempts to launch a lunar craft between 1969 and 1972. The American public was captivated by the space race, and made the astronauts out to be American heroes. In 1975, the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission sent three US astronauts aboard an apollo aircraft that docked in orbit with a Soviet made Soyuz vehicle. The commanders of the two crafts met up, and the space handshake served to symbolize the gradual improvements of US-Soviet related relations in the late Cold War-era.