Having spent a month studying nuclear deterrence and weapon effects I thought it would be appropriate to get some first-hand experience with the Cold War ICBM world. When we finished playing at White Sands National Monument it was too late, but the next day we drove back out to the White Sands Missile Range where you can see the “Missile Park” and the WSMR Musem.
Then it was back in the car to drive to Tucson, AZ. We spent the night in Tucson before visiting a real (decommissioned) ICBM silo in nearby Sahuarita, AZ. The “Copper Penny” Titan II Silo was turned into a museum with the missile still intact (warhead removed, of course, and presumably unfueled as the fuel was nasty, dangerous stuff). I thought it was pretty neat. Too bad we didn’t have more time (or mainly Heather wouldn’t have put up with it) to do the longer tour where you get to go through the whole thing top to bottom. But we were able to get on the short tour where you see the control room and the silo itself. They run a pretend launch sequence with the 2 keys and the code book. I found it interesting, Jess and Heather…somewhat less so.
I spent a month studying the strategies and theories behind how nuclear weapons might be used and what would be targeted with them. The Titan II carried a W-53 9-megaton nuclear warhead. An airbust would result in a fireball with a radius of ~1.45 miles. Most homes would collapse out to a radius of ~10.3 miles. And exposed persons would experience 3rd degree burns within a radius of ~19.5 miles. If you detonated one above NYC you’d kill about 4 million people instantly and injure another 5 million. Over Tokyo would be over 5 million deaths with another 10 million injuries. These were not surgical weapons. [Calculations from NukeMap]
Being in the bunker and knowing that the launch of that missile would have meant the immediate death of a few million people and the inevitable death of hundreds of millions (as presumably an all-out nuclear war would be occurring) was sobering. And the great joke of nuclear deterrence is that no one knows if it works or not. We only have post hoc reasoning, some logical inferences, and hope. During the Cold War the Soviets were convinced the U.S. was just waiting for a chance to wipe them out. The U.S. was convinced the Soviets were just waiting for a chance to wipe us out. It’s amazing we all survived.
I was able to buy a souvenir from the museum. It’s a piece of the re-entry assembly from a Titan II. When the missiles were decommissioned someone got their hands on some of them and cut out these squares from spacer made from an aluminum-copper alloy. Not everyone gets to own a piece of an ICBM. [Last photo in gallery below.]