Precisely a year ago, in honor of my 35th birthday, Dad and I took a trip over to the Titan Missile Museum in Sahuarita, AZ about 5 minutes from where my parents live. Therein you get a guided tour of a silo housing an LGM-25C Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile, part of the US nuclear deterrent from 1963 to 1987.
As you can see, there’s not much aboveground – that tan thing in the foreground there is the enclosure that seals off the top of the silo. Everything else is museum.
Getting in involves a flight of concrete stairs outside, which I am assured had to be routinely checked for snakes back in the days when SAC crews were routinely rotating in and out of the place. Once through a door at the top, you get to go down rather a lot of these metal stairs. You can see them below the stairs I’m on.
Once at the bottom, you’re greeted with one of these gigantic blast doors, which I am assured are slightly more wieldy than they might look. That large hole to the side is where the missile silo equivalent of a deadbolt goes in, because when you have a giant nuclear missile, security is important.
This is just inside the door looking back out. If any of this, such as the ramps, look remotely ergonomic, it’s a later addition.
All of this is a fair ways underground at this point. We’ll go down that hallway to the silo later.
According to SAC policy, running around by yourself in here was not the done thing. Call it security, call it safety (both from yourself and the environment), none of the reasons for this inspire the warm fuzzy feeling.
These giant banks of computers are the heart of the launch control room. What you’re seeing isn’t actually the original 1960s tech. In the early 1980s they managed to miniaturize things, thus all those blank panels in the back. These days you could probably launch the missile from your smartphone, because we really do live in the future.
This is where most of the action happens. Our tour guides actually got volunteers from the tour to playact out a launch sequence for the group, which was pretty neat.
This giant cluster of tubing should prove to you once and for all the builders’ strong commitment to ergonomics.
That giant spring is one of four enormous shock absorbers around the control room. I’m given to understand that most of the room floats, thus insulating it from shock in case of earthquake or, you know, nuclear blast.
Remember that long hallway to the silo? These are all shock absorbers keeping that up in case of large seismic events such as cattle stampedes and, you know, nuclear blasts on the off chance that the Soviets targeted this place with like 5 ICBMs or something because Cold War.
I admit I was actually a bit surprised to see handily labeled conduits and tubes and things down here.
This is right outside the silo elevator, with typical SAC form over function on full display.
This is the business end of the Titan II, which in former days held a 9 megaton W-53 single nuclear warhead, this being the days before MIRVs were a thing and one missile could blow up half a country with multiple warheads.
This is the side of the missile along with the silo (that white thing is the open door to the elevator). Again, none of this looks like it ought to be in a Fallout game.
These spacesuit looking things, original from the 60s, are around because hydrazine rocket fuel is toxic as hell and wants to kill you, much like some other things on the missile.
This is the entire missile from outside the silo. Weird glare is because there’s a giant glass sheet covering the silo opening, and because wouldn’t you know it the sun shines in Arizona a lot.
These are the various rocket engines from a Titan II, with the first stage on the right and the second stage on the left.
If all that tubing on the first stage engine looked kind of complicated, that’s because it kind of is. I’ve always been kind of impressed with the sort of engineering that it takes to get all those little tubes in just the right places.
This little guy is, I’m pretty sure, a maneuvering thruster, and I was really curious as to why the cone there is made in the way it’s made. Not sure what’s going on there.
This is looking up the cone of the first stage engine. All those little black marks are from tiny little holes that direct the thrust out.
Here’s a better view of same.
Here’s the fun end of the second stage engine, with it’s slightly more directional thruster.
This guy is the inertial maneuvering unit, which has a bunch of gyroscopes and things to tell the guidance computer where the missile is. Again, you could probably get better results from your smartphone’s GPS these days, but back in the day somebody way smarter than you figured all of this out using for real rocket science using more slide rules and less Kerbal Space Program.
Here’s a cutaway model of the entire silo. We didn’t get to visit most of this, which is a little unfortunate.
Old Security Forces jeep wishes you a safe and nuclear war-free day.