Man has been studying the stars for centuries. But the idea of sending a person into space only really took hold in the 1900s. The “Space Race” became a symbol of the Cold War, with ideological enemies the USSR and the USA striving to prove their strength and technological prowess by being the first to succeed.
In the end, the USSR got there first, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin launched into space on April 12, 1961. Further manned spaceflights followed, with Valentina Tereshkova becoming the first woman to go to space in 1963. The Americans then turned their attention to putting a man on the moon; a feat accomplished by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on July 21, 1969.
Records of all these historic spaceflights were ratified by the FAI Astronautic Records Commission (ICARE), which continues to appraise and administer spaceflight records to this day.