The Russians became the first into space after putting Yuri Gagarin into orbit, and they maintained a good lead over the Americans right up to the time the USA landed the Apollo 11 crew on moon. However, if the Russians had had access to the kind of technology the Americans had, then i have no doubt that they would have been first to the moon, in which case we may well have seen a race to Mars!
For those who know, the race between the two was a very interesting and diverse one, and one which had a hand in developing many of the things that we now take for granted, some significant, others not quite so. My past 15 or so years in this business has been largely dominated by my sales of space signed items, and the Autographica show which i started in 1999 could never have become reality without those first astronauts who flew over to meet the many space fans here in the UK for the first time.
These men and women were a very brave breed indeed, and although there is always much talk about going back to the moon or even further, i believe it is more likely that it will be the Chinese or perhaps even India that will be prepared to take the risks to achieve those goals.