During the space race of the 1960s, the Soviets conducted three projects, Vostok, Voshkod and Soyuz, roughly similar to the three American manned space projects of the same decade, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. Each Soviet project would beat its American counterpart into space and accomplish several firsts. Vostok put the first man, not just into space, but into earth orbit, put the first woman into space, spent the first full day in space, launched the first dual space mission with two space craft, and posted the longest solo space flight. Voshkod did more than be the first to put two men into space in the same spacecraft, it put three, then followed that up with the first Extravehicular Activity, or EVA, or "Spacewalk." Voshkod, however, would only fly two manned missions, while Gemini would fly twelve, posting the first legitimate space rendezvous, docking in space, and working EVAs, all necessary if Apollo was going to land on the moon.
After Voshkod II, Gemini had the field of space all to itself, flying its last mission in November 1966. Apollo was preparing to fly its first mission, scheduled for February 1967, when fire swept the cockpit of Apollo 1 during a "plugs out" test on January 27, 1967. While Apollo recovered and regrouped, Soyuz first flew in April 1967. Soyuz 1, however, experienced its own tragedy when its solo crew member died when the space craft crash landed. It would be eighteen months before Soyuz flew again, with another solo mission in October 1968. As it turned out, Soyuz 2 and 3 flew two weeks after Apollo 7 cleared the pad. Soyuz 3 attempted a space docking with the unmanned Soyuz 2 spacecraft, but was unable to do so. Now it was the American space program that had the lead, with Apollo 8 flying out to and orbiting the moon in December 1968, before the three man Soyuz 4 mission of January 1968 conducted a docking and a crew transfer with the three man Soyuz 5.
Apollo would fly three more missions and cross the finish line by landing on the moon before Soyuz 6 flew in October 1969, joined in the first triple spacecraft mission by Soyuz 7 and Soyuz 8. Soyuz 9, in June 1970, sent two men into space for 17 days and 16 hours as an endurance test. While Apollo landed on the moon 5 more times, the Soviets focused on launching their Salyut space station into earth orbit. The first Soviet spacecraft to visit Salyut 1 was Soyuz 10 in April 1971, but the docking attempt was unsuccessful. The docking of Soyuz 11 with Salyut 1 was successful in June 1971, unfortunately, all three crew members would die during re-entry of asphyxiation.
Between 1973 and 1980, the Soviets would fly 28 two-man Soyuz missions, visiting their space stations Salyut 3, Salyut 4, Salyut 5 and Salyut 6. The Americans launched their own space station, Skylab in 1973, and three missions using Apollo spacecraft visited the lab in 1973 and 1974, with the last Skylab crew returning to earth in February 1974. In July 1975, Soyuz 19 rendezvoused and docked with an Apollo spacecraft as part of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. In 1980, the Soviets would resume flying three-man Soyuz missions, visiting Salyut 6, Salyut 7, and the Mir space station during the next decade. After the fall of the Soviet government, Soyuz would continue to fly as directed be the Russian Federal Space Agency.
While project Apollo ended, Soyuz never did; it's most recent launch occurred in November 2014, to take three crew members, including an American and an Italian, to the International Space Station. Four more Soyuz launches are planned for 2015, in March, May, September and November. Soyuz has outlasted them all, and is now, currently, the only show in town; between 1981 and 2011, America flew 135 space shuttle missions (the November 2014 Soyuz launch was for the program's 124th mission). The Chinese launched their own space program in 1999, with their first manned mission flying in 2003, when Shenzhou 5 flew a single crew member through 14 orbits. Five more Shenzhou missions have flown, with the last having launched in June 2013. Shenzhou 11 is planned for 2016, which will dock with China's second space station, Tiangong-2, which is also expected to be launched in 2016.