Titan Missile Museum

Looking down into the Titan missile silo.

December 9, 2020.

Here’s your Cold War mission. If the Soviet Union fires nukes at us, it is your job to fire back and help make sure all of humanity is erased. You are one of four soldiers pulling a 24-hour shift at a US missile silo. Tell you what. You can even pick your job. Ready?

If you chose to be Commanding Officer or Second in Command, don’t forget to bring your personal padlock and key. You’ll need it later. If you chose to be a rocket tech or general maintenance tech you won’t need the padlock. But you all have to remember four phone numbers.

The first call is at the exterior gate. The crew you are about to relieve is deep in the silo, but they will press a button to unlock. You have three minutes to make the next call. If you are attacked during that time, they will call for reinforcements.

The second call is at the entrance to the control center. Another button pushed from inside will let you in. Halfway down the 55 stairs, outside the first three-ton, nuke-proof door, you make the third call. Now you have a sequence of buttons to press, coordinating with someone inside. Then again at the second nuke-proof door, and at the bottom of the stairs.

Entrance into the control station.

Phone station used for coordinating the opening of the blast doors.

Pulling on one of the 6,000 lb. blast-proof doors.

You’re in! The only time you’ll be alone in the next 24 hours is when you are in the bathroom. The first order of business is a three-hour check of all systems, with officers making sure everything in the double-padlocked cabinet is in order.

You are in a three-story underground chamber, suspended by huge springs designed to withstand vibration from an incoming nuclear warhead. Above are sleeping quarters, where you may take a four-hour nap. Below are environmental systems, and in the center is the silo’s control room. Down a long hallway is the silo itself.

In the silo is a Titan missile, over 100 feet tall. In the nose is a nuclear warhead. Half of the multi-stage rocket’s weight comes from volatile liquid propellants, kept from reacting with each other by butterfly valves. The Titan’s brain is powered by two 24V batteries that contain no electrolytic solution. The fluid is stored separately, and fed into the batteries in the event that the launch sequence is started.

A large tank near the silo holds water to be released during the launch sequence. If the engines ignite the water will turn to steam, baffling the sound waves that would vibrate the rocket apart during launch.

You go about your duties, always alertly listening for one of two sounds. The first is a motion-detector alarm which can be triggered by large swivels stationed outside. Designed to signal an incoming warhead or natural disaster, it can also be set off by wildlife.

The second sound is a coded radio transmission relayed from the White House. If you hear this, it’s time to implement Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The premise of MAD is this. If you know that your enemy will retaliate by destroying you, then you won’t attack.

Let’s assume that USSR did launch the first attack, though. After hearing the initial transmission your team would jump into action. Each officer would grab his notebook and decode the message. As a double-check, they would swap notebooks and decode again.

Using their personal keys they would unlock the padlocks of the cabinet and remove the envelope matching their message. A six-digit combination for the launch would be set. None of you know the target destination. Each officer would insert a key into his console, and they would turn their keys simultaneously.

Each offier has a key to the locked red file drawer. The drawer contains envelopes with location codes. The officers select the envelope matching the coded message received from the White House.

Control room with two “officers” poised to turn the launch keys. Note the giant suspension spring behind the ball-capped “officer”. The six-digit code for the launch destination has been set on the tall rightmost panel, the topmost section centered between the handles.

Now the computer takes over, retracting the silo’s cover, dumping water into the silo, dumping electrolytes into the batteries, transferring control to the warhead, and opening the butterfly valves allowing the fuel to combine and react. Your rocket launches.

It’s time to update your logs and contemplate the future. By the time the second stage of your Titan is expended, the warhead will be traveling at 25 times the speed of sound. It could hit Moscow in half an hour. Your motion detector alarm could sound any second, signaling that your site has been hit. Your facility was designed to keep you alive for three weeks below ground. And you have a month’s supply of food. Cheers!

Fortunately for all of us, the idea of Mutual Assured Destruction worked. The Cold War ended before any of the 54 Titan missiles were launched from their silos in Arizona, Arkansas, and Kansas. In fact, if you have half a million dollars lying around, you could buy yourself a silo, or for $13.50 (Adults 13 and up) you can visit the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, AZ.

All clocks in the system are set to Greenwich Mean Time with a 24 hour scale.

Underground hallway leading from the control room to the silo.

Titan missile sitting in its silo.

The missile silo is below the retractable cover pictured.

Suits used when handling rocket fuel.

* All pics are click to enlarge.

** This is the first of 3 posts about a short trip we did through Southern Arizona this past December.

9 thoughts on “Titan Missile Museum

  1. Great post. I so wish we knew about this place when we were down in Tucson at the end of December. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to visit sometime. It looks fascinating.

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks Steve! I’m glad we finally got to visit. I first noticed the museum on the map last spring but it was closed then due to the pandemic. So it was nice to be back in the area and have another chance to go. I’m sure you’d enjoy it. The tour was very good. And how often do you get to be in a missile silo?

    • Oh, darn, Steve! I forgot you both were traveling in Southern Arizona in December as well. We could have tried to meet up, socially-distanced… As a matter of fact, the six of us could have all visited this museum together!

  2. MAD certainly describes that approach to safety–Mutually Assured Destruction.

    • Duwan said:

      Yes, an approach to safety that doesn’t seem very safe.

  3. Wow, Greg! I felt like I was right back in the silo listening to our guide. 🙂 A post well done. I’ll link back to it when I cover our little getaway with you both last December. I forgot all about the MAD. Such an interesting tour and place. Good to see you’re catching up on all the blog posts, Duwan. I’ll have decent WiFi for a couple more days, so keep it up! 🙂

    • Duwan said:

      Greg wrote that post the next day after our visit to the museum. You know how good his stories are when he is inspired. Looking forward to your post on our trip. I should have more posts this coming week.

  4. I came over here from Liesbet’s post. My husband and I visited the Titan Missile Museum a couple years back and absolutely loved it. We’ve only seen a handful of other bloggers talk about it, so I was interested to see your take. This post is great – very engaging narrative and your words and photos really capture the experience. If you’re ever in South Dakota, near Badlands National Park, you can take a similar tour of the next iteration of ICBMs at the Minuteman Missile Museum. Another fascinating (in a terrifying way) spot. Anyway, great post. Safe travels!

    • Duwan said:

      Thanks! Glad you hopped over from Roaming About. Greg, my husband, doesn’t write many posts but when he does his take on things is usually pretty interesting.

      We almost went to Badlands and the Minuteman Missile Museum this past year but decided to give it a miss when the weather started getting colder. We will definitely try to swing through South Dakota later this year. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.