How to visit a nuclear missile:
If the silo still has liquid fuel in it you will need to wear an airtight rubber suit but if it is 2007, the silo was decommissioned during Reagan’s SALT II treaty so, the silo will having no fuel, you can probably just show up for the tour in your flip flops and a hardhat (many steel girders and low spaces are inside).
If you are the youngest member of the tour group, you will probably be given the questionable honor of helping end the First and Second Worlds as we know them. You will perform this duty at the climax of the one hour walk, underground in the concrete reinforced control bunker. When the tour docent turns his control panel key, you will be allowed to turn your key. Those redundant triggers will then send the largest ballistic hydrogen bomb ever made, on its merry way to vaporize a city of Soviets.
The tour guide says that this particular missile was calibrated to fly to one of three targets, depending on what punch card stack was fed into the computer. Even today, 20 years after de-commissioning, it is not general knowledge what destination the punchcards aimed the missile at. And yes, the mightiest weapon was indeed aimed by a punchcard. It's primitive but there's certainly no possibility of an internet virus there! This is the actual punchcard reader.
Being on the tour, seeing an 8 year old boy turn the actual warhead launching key was probably disturbing for most of the adults present. When the 7 year old turned his key the pit kind of fell out of my stomach. I felt like I was on a tour of Golgotha and they asked a child to hammer a nail or two into Christ’s cross.
The boy was completely enthusiastic of course. He loved it. The sober tour guide reminded all present that “The Titan II was meant as only a deterrent – it would be launched in an act of ” (and here the child’s ears perked up) “RETALIATION.” The child yelled “Yeaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!” and punched his little Bobby Brady fist into the air.
This is where you would put your hand as you pulled open the code drawer to see whether the phone call was legit.
The guys on the tour (and believe me, it was all guys) wanted to see the rocket motors. Luckily the tour docent had lots of great details. I had wrongly assumed the motors burned hydrogen and oxygen. That would be hard to keep fueled, probably. Turns out the oxidizer was nitrogen tetroxide, the fuel was asymmetrical dimethyl something (azide? can't remember...). The nozzle has two beautiful sets of perforations for injecting these liquids, which then react spontaneously, vigorously inside the engine cone.
One weird detail about the fuel: it is such an exotic substance, it solidifies at something like 40 degrees F but boils at room temperature, so it was critical to chill the entire 100 foot silo to the temperature of British ale all the time or else the entire setup would boil/freeze.
Believe it or not, there is at least one hour worth of interesting things to see there. After the tour, you may choose from many AWESOME souvenirs at the gift shop. These gift items were really much more inspired stuff than I am used to. Want any of the following?
- sawed up bits of re-rod from a similar nearby missile silo
- blueprints and electrical schematics
- DVDs of Bikini Atoll, Nevada, and (rare) nuclear space detonations
- working Geiger counters from 1950s, $49
- uranium sulfate-stained pigmented glass marbles
- warning signs from the perimeter
Credit for making the gift shop so awesome goes to
Yvonne Morris, Director.
Official site of the Arizona Titan II Missile Museum.