Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cold War Revisited

Cold War Revisited

Less than a 15-minute drive from the Badlands National Park is a Cold War-era relic. It is a sobering experience to visit Delta-01Launch Control and especially Delta-09 an actual hardened concrete silo that still holds a deactivated Minuteman Missile. When the warhead was in place on this solid-fuel rocket it's payload was equal to 60 percent of all the explosives used in World War II. And that includes the bombs used by all sides and the two Atom bombs we dropped on Japan.

By the mid-1970s there were 450 Minuteman missiles housed in underground silos on the Great Plains. Controlling the 450 silos were 45 Launch Control Centers under the command of the United States Air Force.  Each center controlled 10 missiles. Control was done via underground sealed cables up to 15 miles in length per silo.

The Launch Control Center from the outside is unimposing. Above ground are the living quarters and below ground it is more interesting as the actual launch electronics, control panels and now-primitive computers can be seen up close. A 2-man crew would work a single 24 hour shift. And then would be “off” for a few days.  Interesting fact from the park ranger.  Today's cell phones have more computing power than what was in place in each silo and control center. 
The Minuteman silo is deceptively peaceful looking. It barely protrudes two feet above the ground. Today it has a thick glass half window above the missile allowing visitors to look down into the silo. But what an apocalyptic payload it could deliver. This missile was aimed on the Kremlin, and in just under 30 minutes -- had the orders been given – it would have taken out most of Moscow. And an additional nine missiles would have been launched simultaneously from this one of 45 identical Launch Control Centers. Thank God, the Cold War never turned “hot.”

Some factoids:

Many missile sites were destroyed and the land sold back to the farmers.  These was a tidy sum of money to be had from removing the dual cables of two-inch thick copper wire strands.  A small cottage industry sprung up to "harvest" the buried cables.
The Minuteman missiles reached speeds of 15,000 MPH and could reach Moscow in 30 minutes or less, hence this photo.

Only one Minuteman Missile was ever fired from an underground silo and it was a test.  The heat and force of lift off rendered the silo unusable.  It's target was somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Tomorrow I'll write about more about Badlands National Park.

1 comment:

  1. I remember having to memorize all those missile acronyms in high school history ICBM etc. Glad they weren't used. Sobering for sure.