The Space Race was a competition between the USA and the USSR to explore space using artificial satellites and manned spacecraft. It can be seen as a part of the larger arms race, as developments in space research could easily be transferred to military research. Both countries started work on developing reconnaissance satellites well before the height of the Space Race. The Vostok spacecraft used by the USSR to put Yuri Gagarin into space, for example, was developed from the Zenit spy satellites used by the Soviet military.
However, the military benefits of the Space Race were not the only driving force behind the American and Soviet attempts to explore space. The populations of both countries took a great interest in their respective space programs and it was a useful way for both superpowers to demonstrate their superiority. Nikita Khruschev, the Premier of the Soviet Union, used the country's early success in the Space Race to claim that the "economy, science, culture and the creative genius of people in all areas of life develop better and faster under communism." The American President John F. Kennedy, on the other hand, is quoted as saying "Everything we do ought to... be tied in to getting on to the Moon ahead of the Russians... we hope to beat the USSR to demonstrate that instead of being behind by a couple of years, by God, we passed them. "
In America the space program was headed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, who were given control of all non military activity in Space. The team at NASA included Dr. Wernher von Braun, the German scientist responsible for the development of the V2 rocket during the Second World War. He was later moved to the United States by the U.S. Army to study the future potential of rockets and masterminded the development of the Saturn V Moon Rocket.
Early Russian research was also based upon the German's V2 rocket and involved members of Von Braun's production team under the supervision of Russia's Chief Designer, Sergey Korolyov. There was no equivalent of NASA in Russia, however, and this, along with the USSR's economic disadvantage, would prove detrimental to continued Soviet success in the race to the Moon.