Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

One of the Best Museums EVER!

Just south of Tucson is the Titan Missile Museum, the only Titan II missile facility remaining.  This museum ranks as one of my Top 5 Museums…EVER!   It had me totally spellbound and I was in awe of the secrecy, operations, and mystery of the Cold War era facility and its unnerving importance.   

“Peace through deterrence” was a phrase used during the 20-year Cold War to describe how two powerful countries, each with enough nuclear weapons to annihilate the earth, were able to maintain peace.  The United States and the former Soviet Union were locked in a strife that was one turn-of-a-key away from destroying the earth and civilization as we know it.  One of the United States military assets was the Titan II missile program – a critical component to the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile defense system that ensured peace during a tense time.  There were 54 missile facilities surrounding three major cities, Tucson, Little Rock, and Wichita and aren't you glad you didn't live near them during that time? You would have been ground zero for the Soviets.

The tour starts off with a brief orientation film and then you are guided out into the barren desert.  You begin your trip back in time by descending down a menacing stairwell that brings you into the depths of national security and the heart of the Cold War.  Soon you pass through four blast doors made of three tons of steel.  The doors are locked in place with steel pins after entry in order to verify your identity.  Before moving to the next zone, one must give a top-secret security code and then place the lit piece of paper in the tin can so it does not fall into the hands of the enemy.  This is serious spy stuff that movies are made of...only it was real!

The outside of the facility does not look like much - it is what is underground that counts.
Before the two keys are turned
to launch the missile a code has to
be entered.
Once you have descended into the earth you step into the command center and feel as though you are in a sci-fi movie about to conquer aliens (or some other enemy).  The mint-green panels have buttons that still blink wildly as they did over 20 years ago.  And while the commanders chair sits empty (except for the eager tourist anxious to be in charge), the facility is still intact and even has the operations manual open in case questions arise.  If you were alive during the “duck and cover” era, I’m sure the explanation of the sequence to launch the missile would evoke creepy memories.  It sure raised the hair on the back of my neck.

Our tour guide, Larry, was fantastic and as he explained the detailed sequence of launching the missile not one of us made a peep.  In just 58 seconds the missile could be airborne and the world’s shattered fate would be sealed.  The Titan II missile was capable of delivering a 9-megaton nuclear warhead to one of three pre-programmed targets more than 6,300 miles away in about 30 minutes.  (Now I don’t know what a 9-megaton missile feels like when it hits….but….ouch!)  

Larry explaining the launch sequence.
Just in case you forgot how something worked
the manual was available.
The top-secret codes and launch keys were kept in
the red locker.  Each top-level officer had a padlock
with the combination known only to them.

The cableway linked the command center to the silo.
The cableway was supported by heavy-duty
springs to protect it from the blast.

While crews of four sat for 24-hour shifts waiting for the order, it never came.  The highest state of alert came when President John F. Kennedy was shot.  The United States was unsure if the Soviets were engaged in an act of aggression so the critical two keys needed to launch the missile were removed from the locked safe and placed on the table.  The keys were never placed in their switches.

After 19 years in operation, the silos became deactivated in 1982 as part of President Ronald Reagan's policy of decommissioning the Titan II missiles.  While it is a common misconception that this decommissioning was the result of a weapons reduction treaty, it was actually due to the fact that weapons systems were being modernized.  All Titan II silos throughout the country (except for this one) were demolished.  In order to assure the Soviets that the silos were deactivated according to treaty specifications, each silo was stripped of useful equipment and then the top 25-feet of the silos were imploded thus rendering them useless.  The silos were left exposed for several months so that Soviet spy satellites could verify deactivation.  While the Titan II represents humanity’s ability to destroy itself, it also represented more than just war and destruction when it was used to launch Gemini astronauts and satellites into orbit.

The 103-foot missile still sits inside the silo.  Visitors can get a look down into the silo from ground level.
The door covering the silo is only half open to ensure it can not be launched.  Guess the former
Soviets still don't trust us completely
The Titan II Missile Museum offers an eerie look into the Cold War past.  The missile (unarmed, of course) still sits in the silo ominously perched upwards toward the sky aimed at an unknown target.  The tour lasts about an hour but I think you will be spellbound the entire time.  I didn't want it to end.  The Cold War remains a distant memory but this museum illustrates the tension and distrust that permeated the era and reminds us of how peace was maintained through deterrence.  Now if we can only get through the next 20 years without launching anything.

More photos for your viewing pleasure....

The museum truly is one-of-a-kind and well worth the trip.
Protective clothing had to be worn to protect soldiers from the rocket fuel during fueling and defueling operations.
Note all the darker colored patches on the suits.
The facility was run by a four person crew from the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.  There were always two officers and two enlisted personnel on duty.  
The museum has a timeline of the Cold War to refresh your memory.
No man or women could ever be alone (except in the crews quarters) for security reasons.  
The sophisticated radar surveillance system protected the facility and ensured no intruder was above ground.
The crew coming on duty would call the command center and give the secret code before being allowed to enter.  


  1. Since I was raised 30 miles from the missles it was something that we knew even as children, that they were something very dangerous. I can remember drills in school so that we would be prepared. Of course, we thought we would be fine, we never understood that we never would know what happened much less need the drills.

  2. We've been to Tucson so many times and have never visited this museum, we will now! Thanks guys for the tour.

  3. Yup, I remember the duck and cover drills and the climbing under desk while in school.

    Great tour, I missed this last winter when in Tucson. Won't miss it next time. Thanks!

  4. This really was an eye-opener. Hope your desk was made of tons of steel or concrete, otherwise you were going to be a goner!


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