I helped take that Proton photo, or one EXACTLY like it, on KH8 mission 4351 (launched 1981-02-28). I was a NCOIC, Satellite Operations, working on the GAMBIT program in SAFSP/OD-4 at Sunnyvale at the time. In those days, NPIC would send us a selection of some of the very best photos taken on each mission after the film was returned and processed. One of the "beauty shots" we received after that mission was identical to this one--a Proton booster, sans payload, being transported by rail at TT. In fact, I think it most likely that the photo I saw is the very same one pictured here. I remember being very excited to see it, as I had never seen the first stage of a Proton vehicle before. And, outside of the intelligence community, no one in the West would see a complete Proton until December 1984, when the Soviet Vega probes were launched.
Now in defense of the US, the soviets did put a satellite up first, but we were more than capable of doing so at the same time or even before. We sent up a satellite 2 months after the soviets. Contrast that with the moon landing. The soviets never sent a man to the moon even decades after we did. So in that light, I think the moon landing was far more impressive and representative of "victory" for a lack of a better word.
Perhaps we can say the soviets won the first space battle, but we won the space war? Without a doubt, we won the PR war as the moon landing and armstrong's "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" will be the iconic and defining moment of the space race for the rest of history.
Isn't there like a subreddit or website called like r/ShitHNSays?
1 - https://twitter.com/shit_hn_says
So long as you wanted to join the COMINTERN empire,
and become a proletariat subjugated to the Party's bourgeoise.
Now that I know more about just how atrocious the us was internally to it's minorities and worse to several foreign countries during the cold war era, I sometimes wonder just how it was that the US won the cold war, and then I see something like 'death of stalin' and I come to understand that the other side was just as venal and absurdly incompetent, and just as incapable of living up to it's founding ideals
Well, Soviet was first to "touch" the moon (Luna 2, 1959),first to "soft land" on the moon (Luna 9 and 13, 1966), did a unmanned lunar soil sample return (Luna 16, 1970), moon rover (Luna 17, 1970).
Particularily combining first human safe return trip to space followed by landing a rover (shortly after Apollo) - it makes sense for Soviet to claim Mars as the "real" target for human exploration... After having tested "all parts" to a certain extent.
The Soviet Space program (and US) explicitly wanted to place men on the Moon and Mars, and Korolev had a goal of doing that by 1968.
Hell, the only reason the Soviets didn't start their specific Moon program earlier was due to personal issues between competing departments as well as the Governments insistence that the space program be specialized toward weaponry rather than outright exploration.
In most wars for example who ever wins the first battle is important, but it's who wins the last battle that really matters.
I'm sure if you gave 20 billion more a year to NASA and said put a man in space, we could do so. It's just that quite frankly, we've out grown human beings in space, beyond simply doing so for bragging rights. You can do any kind of tests you want, with almost no limit to complexity, with robotics nowadays, and I don't believe we feel the need to "race" Russia and China to goals we've already accomplished. There's simply better ways to spend the money, research wise.
Putting a man on Mars would have required a monumental investment, which the USSR couldn't remotely afford.
And if they somehow had found a way to do that, they would have had to quit the arms race, which could very well have been considered a "win" for the US.
Ah the Cold War: when everyone was united in a common struggle against communism whether you spoke Italian, American or Japanese.
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Right_Stuff_%28film%29
1) The book is terrific, well worth the time for anyone interested in these matters.
2) I didn't see anything in the article that contradicts the idea that the decision was made based on schedule rather than competition. Did I miss something?
The drive to get Apollo 8 up and around the moon (as well as the intentions of the rest of the Apollo flights) may not have been explicitly called out in mission documents as having the purpose of directly competing with Russia, but I'm not sure that really matters in the grand scheme of things. Even if the intentions of the program managers and engineers that put Apollo in space really were just sticking to their planned schedule without concern of the other side's progress, the funding, fast track bureaucracy, and schedule timeline that allowed NASA to do the things they did certainly was motivated by political interests. That, to me, makes the issue of whether or not they based it on CIA info less profound, if not moot.