Thursday, May 14, 2009
One of the other things we found out about while at Mt. Rushmore was the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. During the Cold War the great plains were covered with thousands of missile silos, ready to respond at a moments notice to any hint of Russian attack.
The historic site consists of two parts, the command center, housed below a nondescript building in the middle of the South Dakota prairie, and a silo with a (deactivated) Minuteman II missile inside. We met up with the Park Ranger guide after a 90 mile drive along I-90 from our overnight at the town of Spearfish.
Above ground at the command center we saw living areas for the Air Force missileers and security forces who were stationed there. Below the surface was the actual command center, where two men would be stationed for a 24 hour shift. All the familiar tropes are present, with a missile launch requiring two independent keys within the command center, and the agreement of two command centers to actually launch. The center itself is 31 feet under ground, behind a huge blast door (with the Dominoes Pizza ad on it) and mounted on shocks, ready to withstand a near miss from a Soviet nuke.
After that we got to see an actual, unmanned, Minuteman II silo. The key to the Minuteman II system was that it was a stable, solid fueled missile that could be kept at the ready for decades without danger or degradation. Previous liquid fueled ICBM's couldn't be kept in a ready state, and had to be fueled before launch, a laborious and time consuming process when Russian nukes where headed your way! This way American strategic forces could be ready to lay waste to any corner of the globe with a mere 30 minutes notice. It revolutionized the American nuclear deterrent, and was in place from the late 60's through to the early 90's. However even today there are active missile silos all around Wyoming, Montana and ... Colorado!