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ISSUE 134 - September 2010
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Clash of the Titans

By Kevin Moore, Contributing Editor & Photographer
Roslin, Ontario, Canada

Like the site itself, the museum is rather inconspicuous,
however, looks can be and are deceiving.

During the height of the Cold War, tensions were extremely high between the east and the west, the former Soviet Union and the United States of America. From the Berlin Wall to the Cuban Missile Crisis, every day citizens built bomb shelters, dealt with the scream of air raid sirens and weekly tests of the Emergency Broadcast System, all while the rest of the world watched and waited.

An artist's conception of a Titan II Missile site.

In the 1960's, the U.S. developed the Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, or ICBM, and construction of Titan II missile silos began in three states - Arizona, Kansas and Arkansas. Strategically placed, Titan II missiles could be launched against the Soviet Union in the event of a nuclear attack. Inside control centres deep below the surface, once secret launch codes were given and two separate keys were turned, missiles would be launched as incoming Russian missiles made their way over the Arctic region and Canada, into the continental United States.

The Titan II missile, with a 9-megaton nuclear warhead
and standing more than 100 feet in length.

The Titan II, at more than 100 feet in length, was the first liquid propellant missile capable of launch from underground with a nine megaton thermo-nuclear warhead. Once launched, the missile could reach a target over half a world away in less than 30 minutes. Thirty minutes to World War III.

"George," one of the museum guides, explaining that the walls, left,
are 8 feet thick concrete and the blast doors, right, are 3 tons.

The Titan II missile silo, bunker, and launch control centre were designed to absorb a nuclear strike, with 8 foot thick concrete silo walls, 3-ton blast doors, and massive springs suspending the underground launch control facility. The launch control area could be reached by means of a set of 55 stairs that dropped from the surface, with the lowest level of the silo housing the propellant pumps more than 140 feet down, at level 8. The silo launch control area included sleeping quarters with a small kitchen, and was staffed by a minimum of two people, 24/7, with certain areas considered 'No Lone Zones' meaning they required a two person control at all times.

The 250 foot walkway from the launch command centre to the missile silo, left. These massive springs support the launch control centre so that, in the event of a missile or bomb strike at the surface, the area remains stable, right.

There were several phones used for security purposes at different levels as crews made their way down inside the silo. The massive bunker doors, once closed, were designed to protect the silo crews from a nuclear blast on the surface overhead. A 250 foot suspended walkway stood between the crew and launch control centre and the actual missile and missile silo, with blast doors at either end.

Part of the launch control command, including the red EWO (Emergency War Orders) safe to the left, and stands of electronic & computer equipment, right.

Missiles were launched from, what was at the time, a high tech launch control centre. Codes were kept on-site in a triple-locked "Emergency War Orders" EWO safe. Once authorization was given, the safe was opened, codes removed and punched into the computer panel, and then, the two keys were to be turned at the same time in order for the missiles to be launched. The launch locks the keys were placed into were designed in such a manner that the only way the keys could be turned for launch were by two separate launch officers. A safety feature that prevented one person from being able or capable of launching the missile. Each Titan II missile stored three targets, which were and still are classified today.

The launch command centre, left. The command launch panel,
showing one of two launch control keys, right.

The Titan Missile Museum, once known as Air Force Facility Missile Site 8 (Titan II ICBM Site 571-7) is roughly 15 minutes from Tucson, Arizona. The site became operational in 1963 and reached its highest state of alert the day President Kennedy was shot, November 22, 1963. It was deactivated in 1982 as part of a 1981 US/USSR decommissioning policy, as were the other 17 sites in Arizona, 18 sites in Kansas, and 17 sites in Arkansas. All other sites were demolished, leaving the Titan Missile Museum as the only remaining site and a National Historic Landmark. It is the only public access Titan II missile museum in the United States.

From below, the massive Titan II missile towers above, left. The large Discone antenna stands almost 80 feet tall and can now be used to listen and broadcast by Ham Radios Operators, right.

Basic tours are available at roughly 60 minutes in duration, with longer tours of 6-7 hour by reservation. During the tour you'll have the opportunity to see both stages of restored Titan II rocket engines, as well as one of the re-entry vehicles. The silo door is permanently half blocked, as per the 1981 policy, with the other half covered by a sturdy glass and metal structure allowing you to look straight down inside the silo at the missile. To ensure the silo and missile are inactive, Russian satellites overfly the site on a regular basis.

The Titan's rocket engines. Stage one, left and stage two, right.

From the above ground tour, you then move on to the stairs, or elevator, down to the lower level and into the control room of the silo. The launch control centre is as it was during its operational period and your guide will demonstrate and explain a simulated launch of a missile. Afterward, you'll move along the 250 foot walkway to the silo area to see the Titan II missile, before heading to the surface where you complete your tour.

Looking down into the depths of the silo and the base of the big missile, left.

As part of one of the most volatile periods in the history of, not only the US and USSR, but also the world, a visit to the Titan Missile Museum is a must if you are in the Tucson area. If you're unsure about doing the tour, a walk around inside the main building of the museum will surely change your mind. It is one place where, with a simple turning of two keys, there could have been a full blown clash of the titans!

A re-entry stage rocket, left. A huge socket similar to this one, caused a massive explosion at a Titan II missile site in Arkansas when it was dropped by a worker down inside a silo, destroying it, the missile and much of the site itself, left.

For more information on the Titan Missile Museum visit

Accidents do happen, read on to find out more.
By Kevin Moore, Contributing Editor & Photographer

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