August 24, 2014

8/3/14 - Minuteman Missile NHS

We started at the end when we visited Minuteman Missile National Historic Site--with the missile.

During the Cold War, there were ICBM Minuteman silos planted all over the Great Plains.  (You may or may not remember this, but perhaps you remember when Bush & Gorbachev started to reduce their stock of nuclear arms.  No?  Ask your dad--he'll tell you about it.)  Now there's just ONE Minuteman II preserved to represent the history of the Cold War and the arms race. When we were at the National Grasslands Visitor Center, the Ranger gave us directions.

The silo, built in 1963 and militarily/cryptically designated Delta-09, is open to the public. All you have to do is walk through the gate. There's a sign on the fence about a cell phone tour, providing (a) you can get coverage in South Dakota and (b) you remembered to bring your phone with you because you don't have coverage where you're staying...  (We didn't and didn't, so didn't.)
You can wander around and look--just don't climb on anything.  Oh,yeah, and watch for rattlesnakes!
The Minuteman II was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), with solid fuel and could be deployed from unstaffed underground silos.  Obviously this thing's deactived; the glass on top is to allow the Soviet satellites flying above South Dakota to confirm it's still there. They did the same thing with the Titan missile they have in Arizona.  (Titan ICBM Museum)  

Another 15 miles east is the Contact Station for the site.  They're building a new Visitor Center on the other side of the freeway, and it looks like it will be very nice.  Right now, they're stuck in an office trailer.  You need to go there to get tickets for the guided tour at the Launch Control Facility.
Back on I-90, this time north about 4 miles.  This is D-01--doesn't look very impressive, does it?  Pretty much looks like a typical ranch house out in the middle of nothing South Dakota.  I think that was the idea.
Then we waited for our ranger...but he didn't look like this!  Our Ranger is Ted, and he talks with his hands.
He took us inside that building with the windows, where he showed us the living area and security control center on the main floor.
Security Control Center

Then we headed down in the elevator to the Launch Control Center, 30' below ground surrounded by concrete.  This is the 90-ton door into the Control Center--blast-door art created by the two-person missile crews on 24-hour duty alerts, waiting for a call to their their missile launch keys and perhaps end civilization as we know it.  It was the world we grew up in.  Now there are terrorists.  Six of one, half-dozen of the other...
Inside the control room were two work stations, one for the Missileer, and one for the Commander.  Most of the space in the room was taken up by the computers--which aren't as powerful as a cell phone now!  (Hey, it was a long time ago.)
But the most impressive thing is the Launch Switch--where the Missileer had to put his key in and turn it exactly when the Commander did his to launch a nuclear missile and start WWIII.  Lots of procedures and safety measures and fail-safe methods to ensure that the world as we know it would continue.
I'm really glad they worked.  It's never been a perfect world, but it could have been a lot worse.

More pictures?  Here you go!  Minuteman Missile NHS 

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