Monday, July 30, 2012

Vacation tip: Minuteman Missile, South Dakota

We recently came back from a visit to western South Dakota, which was fantastic and surprising in many respects. I'd never been to the state, and the image I'd conjured in my mind was really nothing like what I saw. We were surrounded by bison in Custer State Park, we saw an active mammoth dig site in Hot Springs, we were mesmerized by the Badlands, we learned a lot about the Wounded Knee massacre in a tiny museum in Wall, and more. 

Not a big workspace.
But what I wanted to mention was our visit to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Much to their credit, the Park Service decided to maintain a Cold War-era launch control facility and silo. We toured the launch control facility -- it was free, but you need to obtain tickets in advance. The facility is basically a small base on the ground level, where roughly 10 people were stationed starting in the mid-1960s. They provided security, maintained communications, and cooked food for the two-person crew stationed thirty feet below in the launch control center.

The underground center is basically a capsule with 3-foot thick concrete walls, held to the surrounding earth by giant shock absorbers. It was built to withstand a nuclear detonation as close as a mile away. The two chairs inside it have seat belts so that the officers wouldn't be thrown around the chamber in the event of a blast.

The Park Ranger leading our tour gave us a good impression of the lives of the people stationed in this facility. They worked in 24-hour shifts but only had roughly 1-2 hours of work during that time. Beyond that, they just sat and waited for the order to kill millions of people. It's a serious head trip. Officers picked for this job were usually under the age of 25, making them more likely to follow orders and less likely to have families. 

Here's me about to turn my key to start World War III:

And here's some interesting gallows humor painted on the center's concrete door:

Anyway, it's a fascinating piece of history and very much worth the visit.


metrichead said...


Wasn't that another right-wing paramilitary group from the '90s?

Why do they get to have missiles?

Why can't I?

Looks like fun. I wouldn't expect "fun" and "South Dakota" in the same thought.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The boredom issue is still a live one in that part of the military: