Monday, April 13, 2015

Titan Missile Museum - 04/13/15 - Tucson, AZ

Monday – April 13, 2015
Titan II Missile Museum
Tucson, Arizona

During the height of the Cold War (the 1960’s through the 1980s) between the United States and the Soviet Union, the United States had ultimately developed three Titan II Missile locations. Each location contained 18 missile sites for a total of 64 thermo-nuclear missiles. The missile sites were located in Arkansas, Kansas and Arizona.

The missiles were developed as a defense against a missile attack from the Soviet Union. The U.S. military coined our defensive measures "MAD" (Mutual Assured Destruction). The Soviet Union knew where our missiles were located and understood that if they launched a missile attack against the U.S., the U.S. would retaliate in kind, resulting in the annihilation of both nations.

At the present time, only two deactivated missile sites remain in the U.S. The Titan II Missile Museum in Tucson, Arizona (declared a National Historic Landmark in 1994), and a Minute Man missile site in the Badlands, South Dakota.

The Titan Missile Museum, also known as Air Force Facility Missile Site 8 or as Titan II ICBM Site 571-7, is a former ICBM missile site located at 1580 West Duval Mine Road, Sahuarita, Arizona. It is located about 25 miles south of Tucson on Interstate 19. It is now a museum run by the nonprofit Arizona Aerospace Foundation and includes an inert Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile in the silo, as well as the original launch facilities.

The underground facilities consist of a three-level Launch Control Center, the eight level silo containing the missile and its related equipment, and the connecting structures of cableways (access tunnels), blast locks, and the access portal and equipment elevator. The complex was built of steel reinforced concrete with walls as much as 8-foot-thick in some areas, and a number of 3-ton blast doors sealed the various areas from the surface and each other.

The top level of the silo permits viewing the silo missile doors. Level 3 houses a large diesel generator. Level 7 provides access to the lowest part of the launch duct. Visitors on the "Beyond the Blast Doors" tour are allowed to stand directly underneath the missile. Level 8, at 140 feet underground, houses the propellant pumps.

The 103-foot Titan II missile inside the silo has neither a warhead nor has it ever been fueled, allowing it to be safely displayed to visitors. In accordance with a United States and Soviet Union agreement, the silo doors are permanently blocked from opening more than half way. The dummy reentry vehicle mounted on the missile has a prominent hole cut in it to prove it is inert. All of the support facilities at the site remain intact, complete with all of their original equipment.

The silo became operational in 1963 and was deactivated in 1982 as part of President Reagan's policy (announced in 1981) of decommissioning the Titan II missiles as part of a weapon systems modernization program. All operational Titan II silos throughout the country were demolished, including 18 sites around McConnell AFB in Wichita, Kansas, 17 sites near Little Rock AFB, Arkansas (one additional site previously damaged beyond repair in a mishap/non-nuclear explosion) and 17 other sites by Davis-Monthan AFB and Tucson with the exception of this one. The last Titan II missile site was deactivated in 1987.

The Titan II was the largest operational land based nuclear missile ever used by the United States. The missile had one W53 warhead with a yield of 9 Megatons.

The facility's highest state of alert was November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot. When news of the shooting broke, the keys used to launch the missile were ordered to be placed on the tables at the launch consoles to prepare for a possible launch. The Pentagon did not yet know whether the Soviet Union had committed an act of war. The keys were not, however, placed in their switches.

At launch, orders from the National Command Authority would have specified one of three pre-programmed targets which, for security reasons, were unknown to the crew. The missile base that is now the Titan Missile Museum (complex 571-7 of the 390th Strategic Missile Wing) was at the time of closure, programmed to strike "Target Two". The missile's computer could hold up to three targets, and the target selected was determined by Strategic Air Command headquarters. To change the selected target, the crew commander pressed the appropriate button on the launch console. Target 2, which is classified to this day but was assumed to be within the borders of the former Soviet Union, was designated as an impact blast, suggesting that the target was a hardened facility such as a Soviet missile base. Targets could be selected for air or ground burst, but the selection was determined by Strategic Air Command.

A visitor center for the site features a gift shop, a small museum and guided tours of the site. The museum is intended to put the Titan II within the context of the Cold War. Relics include hardstands for fuel storage containers and the associated control vehicles, restored engines from a Titan II missile, and a re-entry vehicle.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.


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