April 12th, 1961 - In a flight lasting 108 minutes, Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, was the first human to orbit the Earth. This event intensified a Space Race between former Soviet Union and the USA.
A month later, on May 05th, 1961, Alan Shepard becomes the first American to travel into space, followed by Gus Grissom on July 21st, 1961.
In addition some Monkey piloted a spacecraft that year, but sadly it didn't make it back to Earth alive.
1961 is the year when president J F Kennedy announced before Congress his goal to put a "man on the moon" before the end of the decade.