The day was July 20, 1969 and the first human had walked on the moon. During the cold war era (1961-1970) the United States pumped billions of dollars into its NASA program with the sole goal of landing on the moon. With its goal came consequences.
On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched its first Sputnik. It carried 184 pounds of scientific equipment into earth orbit. A month later, Sputnik 2 was launched with a living passenger, Laika the dog. Spurred by its newfound rival, the United States accelerated its space program. Within 11 years, the Americans had successfully completed a moon launch.
In 1961, NASA was still a massively military operation. Astronauts were not even considered civilians, carrying military IDs and all the pros and cons of a citizen in uniform. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was the chief supporter of the moon landing attempts during the time period, and later was followed by his presidential counterpart, John F. Kennedy. By 1965, the United States was far ahead of the USSR in space technology and accomplishment. At the time, a push for a nonmilitary goal such as a moon landing would temporarily hold off the growth of a cold war. Johnson realized that increasing funds to NASA and placing military goals on a backburner for a period would help the tension. .
Manned space flight is much more expensive than unmanned flight, and not much more useful, however Kennedy pushed for an American on the moon by the end of the decade. The accomplishment was mainly monumental, not useful. Project Mercury was established to put into perspective moon hazards, as well as general space ones. At the time of Kennedy's proposal, not a single Mercury space craft had been launched. On April 12, 1961 a Russian cosmonaut successfully orbited the world. Later, February 20, 1961, nearly a year behind the Russians, America accomplished manned orbital flight. Mercury provided the Americans with a good foundation for America's Program for Orbital and Lunar Landing Operations, better know as Project Apollo, however lunar landings would be vastly more difficult than comparatively simple earth orbit.