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Minuteman Missile National Historical Site

A Blast from the Past
Article Date: March, 2012


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The Command Center

The shifts were described as long periods of intense boredom, punctuated by brief periods of extreme panic. Training drills were implemented unannounced and with total surprise to keep the missileers on their toes. The topside crew was in a similar situation and found creative things to keep busy. Air Force flight service personnel typically paint nose art on their planes but missileers don't have planes so artwork takes form on the basement walls and on the huge blast door. In fact, the blast door at Delta-01 showed a pizza delivery box reminiscent of a popular national brand with the slogan "Worldwide Delivery in 30 Minutes or less or the Next One is Free".

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With extra time on their hands, crew members found creative ways of expressing themselves.

The Minuteman was a unique missile and those features helped in its deterrence role. We had many more missiles than the Soviets so we had them outgunned. But the biggest advantage was the speed and state of readiness of the Minuteman. Typical liquid fueled rockets require lots of maintenance and fuel needs to be purged and monitored so it takes time to get a liquid fueled ICBM ready for launch. The Minuteman is a solid fueled missile so it can sit stagnant and unmanned for months at a time without any maintenance. In fact, the actual missile silos rarely had any personnel present unless site maintenance was being performed. The Minuteman could be launched within 30 seconds should the command be given. The Minuteman was also a faster missile and traveled at 15,000 MPH, which meant it could travel over the North Pole and reach its target in 30 minutes. If we detected any inbound Soviet missiles we could easily get our birds off the ground with time to spare and reach their target before the incoming missiles would arrive. All of these factors were well known by the Soviets so they knew it was a no-win situation should they decide to attack us. As such, the Minuteman ended the Cold War without ever having to fire a shot.

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It took two men with separate keys to launch the missiles. Each station was 33' apart to prevent any one person from initiating a launch. The launch control officers were seat belted into their positions. Sleeping bunks were provided for the officer who was not on active alert.

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The senior launch control officer sat at this station to initiate the launch.

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The assistant launch control officer's chair was mounted on sliding rails to allow access to the various components. Launch orders came in via the equipment to his right and the safe on the far right held the launch codes and keys.

The tour into the launch control center was extremely interesting and the security measures required in place to prevent some nut from starting a nuclear war were extensive and would fill a book so you'll just have to go take the tour to find all of that out. The technology is all Cold War era with massive computer components that would probably be outdone by today's average laptop computer although they were built to be rugged and endure some severe conditions and still function so maybe today's PCs could learn something from their older siblings.


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