Between 1959 and 2005, 368 Titan missiles were shot from American military bases into enemy lands, contentious territories and even into outer space. Housing these Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) are missile silos – 100 feet long cylindrical bunkers hidden deep underground.
During the Cold War, launching facilities above ground were considered to be vulnerable to attack. By burying the silos beneath the earth, military personnel could better ensure the safety of the missiles, should they ever be needed.
As well as defending America, the Titan missiles have also been integral to important moments in the country’s history. Project Gemini, NASA’s second space launch program, was launched with the use of 12 Titan missiles. Another set of Titan missiles allowed US intelligence agencies to establish surveillance in low Earth orbit, and helped launch space probes to Jupiter and Saturn. Titan II was the largest nuclear-capable land-based missile ever used by the United States.
Due to the high cost of the toxic rocket fuel needed to power the Titan missiles, these ICBMS were forced into retirement. Today the Arizona Titan Missile Silo is open to the public as a museum. The silo plunges 8 stories, or 150 feet, below the ground. Visitors can venture to the second lowest level, harboring the launch duct. Level 3 boasts a grand diesel generator and level 8 sports propellant pumps. The silo is enclosed by 8 foot thick concrete walls and an entrance way that weighs a staggering 740 tons. Highly resistant doors weighing 3 tons each provide additional protection throughout the silo. If a worker wanted to access a certain level, he would have had to open and close one door, being trapped between 2-3 ton security doors before being granted access to the appropriate level.
Two hundred feet removed from the missile silo, and connected by an underground passage, is a three-story control center. Springs, shock absorbers and cables would prevent headquarters from feeling the blasts from the Titan missiles. The crew lived within the control center to ensure complete security at the launch center. As an additional measure, beside the control center is an enormous antenna, able to tap into a wide range of frequencies.
Today, even museum-goers must be careful, because despite having been deactivated, the Titan missiles are still highly toxic.