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This 1961 face-to-face meeting was the only one of its kind for Soviet Premiere Krushchev and US President Kennedy. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

After the United States was upstaged by the Soviet Union with Yuri Gagarin's successful spaceflight, America felt the pressure to catch up and overtake the Soviet Union in the race. Support grew for President Kennedy’s vision of an American man on the Moon, which before Gagarin’s flight was widely considered too expensive. On May 25, 1961, Kennedy went before Congress to ask for financial support for what would become the Apollo space program. His speech, titled "Special Message on Urgent National Needs,” stressed that “no single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

After appealing to Congress, Kennedy rallied the support of American citizens with his famous Rice University speech on September 12, 1962. In this speech, he framed his dream of sending a man to the Moon as being both instrumental to US security and as a way for Americans to conquer the next unexplored frontier: "We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three." This speech was an implicit challenge to the Soviet Union. However, Nikita Khrushchev—the Soviet Premier—responded with silence. He refused to publicly confirm that the Soviet Union was participating in a race to the Moon.