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The time between the launch of the first manned orbit of Earth (Yuri Gagarin of the U.S.S.R., in Vostok 1 for one orbit in April 1961) and the first manned moon landing (Apollo 11 in July of 1969) was a little more than eight years. It seemed a longer, tenser period, since it was part of a wider geopolitical contest between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Just six weeks after Gagarin’s orbit, President John Kennedy addressed a rare joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961. For both technological superiority and global prestige, he set the objective of a safe moon landing and return of an American crew before the end of the decade. For a time it seemed as though the Soviets were ahead of the U.S. in every space endeavor — from the first satellite (Sputnik in October 1957) to the first extra-vehicular activity (Alexei Leonov, 12 minutes in March 1965) to the first probe to make a soft landing on and transmit from the surface of the moon (Luna 9 in February 1966). The U.S. accomplished a “first” that will last.

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