Artist's conception of an early Apollo spacecraft that used direct ascent
Direct ascent was a proposed method for a mission to the Moon. In the United States, direct ascent proposed using the enormous Nova rocket to launch a spacecraft directly to the Moon, where it would land tail-first and then launch off the Moon back to Earth. The other options that NASA considered for the mission to the Moon were Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (which was the strategy used successfully in Project Apollo) and Earth Orbit Rendezvous.
The Soviets also considered several direct ascent strategies, though in the end they settled on an approach similar to NASA's: two men in a Soyuz spacecraft capsule and a one-man LK lander. The failure of the Soviets' N1 rocket delayed their lunar program substantially, however, and they were nowhere close to a successful N1 launch when Apollo 11 lifted off and made the first lunar landing. The Soviets had planned to use an LK, which looked much like a smaller version of the spider-like Lunar Module.