Tucson, February, 2019

First Contact

About 20 miles south of Tucson is the Titan Missile Museum. In the 1950s the US Air Force built 54 of these underground Titan II missile launch sites split between Arizona, Arkansas and Kansas. All of these sites were dismantled by 1987 except for this one as part of a nuclear reduction treaty signed as the Cold War thawed out.

Each launch site was staffed by a small crew of four who were responsible for making sure everything was working while they were on duty and for launching the missile if the proper orders were received. They were on duty for a 24 hour “Alert”. The underground site had sleeping quarters, a kitchen and everything they needed for their Alert shift.

Each of the 103 ft tall ballistic Titan II missiles had a reentry vehicle on top with a 9 megaton nuclear warhead inside. These were the largest land based nuclear missiles every deployed by the US. They were 450 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Each launch control center was protected against a direct strike. Reinforced concrete walls up to 8 ft thick, three ton air sealed blast doors and a 740 ton sliding silo door that could be opened in 18 seconds.

We got a short orientation and then went outside and through two sets of security doors and down eight flights of stairs. And then came to the first of three blast doors.

If you are over 6′ tall you had to wear a hard hat. Lots of low clearance places.

We went down into a service area in the middle of the picture above. There were secure doors into the control rooms to the right and to the long tunnel to the missile silo.

First stop was the control room.

The person leading the tour was very technical. He picked this lady out to sit in the big chair. This whole place screamed 1950s. State of the art for 1950s. Lots of buttons, lights, switches, clocks, dials. The computer here was about the same as an early 1980 PC. No disc drives, no tape drives just a punched paper tape reader. The entire control center was in a hardened shell mounted on giant springs and shock absorbers to isolate it from a near direct hit. The tour leader went through each step necessary to launch a missile.

Alerts and orders to launch came in by radio. There are several different antennas and multiple radio systems. Once the orders came the control center was entirely on its own. They verified orders and codes, started the launch process, the silo doors were opened and the missile was launched in less than a minute.

We left the control center and went though the central area. There were safety suits there worn by the fuel handlers. The Titan missiles were fully fueled and ready to launch at all times.

And then through another blast door and a long tunnel to the launch silo. The tunnel had a suspended walkway full of power and control cables. All of this in another blast resistant structure.

We got to the silo. There were big windows to look inside.

This had a familiar look.

Very familiar.

The hole in the reentry vehicle is to provide verification that the missile is unarmed.

The launch doors are locked partially open, terms of the treaty verification process.

And then I knew where I had seen this. “Star Trek : First Contact” a great 1996 movie that follows the Enterprise back in time to 2063 following a Borg ship. Part of the story is the struggle with the Borg and the other is to ensure that Zefram Cochran makes his maiden flight reaching warp speed. His warp ship is made from a missile in abandoned missile silo in Montana. The first warp drive travel lasted only a minute or so but enough to attract the attention of a Vulcan science ship traveling through the solar system. They land at the launch site and in spite of the Borg’s efforts First Contact was made.

Many of those scenes were filmed here at the Titan Museum. I asked one of the tour guides if I was right and she smiled and said yes. She said almost no one made that connection.

Pretty cool visit.

More later, Much Love,

Roger and Susan

4 thoughts on “Tucson, February, 2019”

  1. Thanks for the photos and a trip back in history! I remember going on red alert several times during ’64-’66 at Travis AFB. We had a bunch of B-52’s. We were a SAC, TAC and MATS base!

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  2. I have been very close to those missiles when test launched from the Western Test Range (Vandenburg AFB CA) in 1975 – 76. I was a military Canine security troop and had posts close to launch sites. Made the ground shake when fired, massive rumble. Windows rattled in down town Lompoc nearby.

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  3. Hey Roger,

    Ted and I did the Beyond the Blast tour several years ago. It was fun “reliving it” through your post. Thanks. Great photos – looks as if you and your new camera are good partners.

    Travel safe,

    Karen

    >

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