Thursday, November 1, 2007

Silos with a secret.

Mr Tibbits has reminded me of a cool place that we went to in Wyoming.
Read about Mr. Tibbits in my previous post.

I am a pacifist. I can't kill, I don't even like to talk about killing because of it's links to death.
Not that I'm against death mind you, it would get VERY crowded with billions of very-uncomfortable, very-worn-out, very crabby, very-senior citizens. It's just that I'm firmly against death as applied to a recipient who doesn't want it yet..
I am an engineer. As an engineer I can't HELP but get excited about all of the technology that has been used for war throughout our history. We may be self-destructive boneheads, but we are ingenious boneheads.
The weapons and tools that we create are amazing. Without Napoleon needing a way to feed his troops in the winter we would not have canned food. Or TANG!, no wait, that was NASA. Tang tastes awful anyway.
Beth and I were barreling around out west when Sherman mentioned in a comment on this very blog that there was a fellow that converted a missile silo into a personal residence. I researched it and found that the owner of that particular silo does not do a lot of tours (and probably didn't like to be pushed on the matter), BUT we were smack-dab in the middle of missile-silo country. There are 1000 huge almost-underground launchpads scattered all over the place. Many of them have been upgraded to a newer fancier weapons of destruction than the old-fashioned "Minuteman II" rockets that these silos were built for.

These new fancier rockets carry much more “stuff” on the pointy end of the flying part, so they don't need quite as many to do the same job, so many of the old ones that could only destroy say... Rhode Island, have been taken apart so that we can get our disarmament card punched at the next international peace treaty. We HAD 32,000 nuclear warheads and many more conventional warheads, so you see, we had a little wiggle room when it came to making promises that we would dismantle some of them. The new ones that replaced the Minuteman II missles can take out Massachusetts, Connecticut, AND Rhode Island anyway. I think New York would get it's own separate “better than the rest” missile.
I wanted to find a missle silo. What would a Russian spy do? I Googled it, and found one right near the highway where we were going to drive on the next day. I called to see about a tour and it turned out that the next day was “Open House Day”. No scheduled tours, just stop to register and take a look for yourselves.
I found the mobile home with the appropriate government labels nailed on it's side and I went in and registered. We were supposed to backtrack West again to exit number 127, turn right, first driveway on the left.
OK, here is a great example of “hide in plain sight”. We saw the exit 127 sign and I noticed that there was an exit and there was no services listed (which isn't that odd in the the desert), but there were also NO towns, villages, or destinations listed. Just “Exit 127”. If you have no need for “Exit 127” then you just keep on driving, mister.
Once you take the exit and drive up the road you will notice a sign attached to the fence that lets you know that you have found D-01. We pulled up, and Beth looked at the little ranch-style house and thought that she would just sit in the car and read.
I joined a small group by the gate and when there were enough of us, we started our tour.
We were shown the outside antennas and told about how many miles of underground cables connected this control room to other control rooms and the missile silo that is down the road.
We looked into the dorm rooms and they were just as they were in the 60s and 70s when this was the hot spot to be at Exit 127. Ten person crews came out here from the military base that is even farther out in the desert. These folks lived in close quarters for the week that they were on duty, but then a subset of them would rotate 12-hour shifts in the egg. Two people would pass through complicated security measures and then go down in an elevator to the control room below ground. They would go through a large blast door that was always painted with the latest slogan, the final one was “Delivered in 30 minutes or less or the next one is free”. This control room egg is quite a distance below ground, is egg shaped, and is mounted on large hydraulic shock absorbers so the occupants would be bounced instead of whacked if there was a nearby “hit”. The room was small with two chairs mounted on rails that could slide back and forth in front of each chair's control panel. There were a lot of radios, decoding devices, operation manuals and of course –the keys--. The control keys to do anything major were set up far enough away from each other so that it took two separate people with normal length arms to switch the keys at the same time. They would also have to coordinate the key turning with another control room somewhere else, so four people had to have the same intentions at the same time for anything to actually launch. It was assumed that out of four people, one of them would put a stop to behavior that would lead to the destruction of our country unless it was duly authorized. I would have thought the same back then. Keep in mind, way back in those days we didn't know as much about the potential forces of mob psychology that we have been forced to learn since Rush Limbaugh has been on the air.
The control room used 24 hour shifts. I have heard from other people that were in the military that the military sometimes will think that it is easier for someone to think straight for 24 hours without sleep than to go through all of the hassle of security and scheduling to change people more often. Just think of all of those extra signatures and launch codes that would be involved, besides, the sliding seats had seat belts and shoulder harnesses, so it isn't like they would hurt anything if they collapsed.
Most of the launch teams were men, not because of a lack of women's rights, but because the military wives protested strongly against any plans to have their husbands locked into a small space with another woman, even a high-ranked other woman, with no communication to the outside world and no way for anybody to peek in. There wasn't even any privacy around the stainless steel bomb-resistant commode. Eventually women were down there, but I believe they were down there as pairs.
They had a supply of food and oxygen. If they happened to be down there longer than “scheduled” because of an “event” they could survive for a while, and if things stretched out longer, they also had a hand-cranked oxygen generator, a really cool device that I would have loved to play with. Tests done on these devices years later showed that the physical exertion of cranking it actually used a small percentage more oxygen than it was generating, but it kept you busy.
If the dorm, security room, elevator, and other stuff was “missing” they supplied a way to manually get out. There was a hatch over the control panels that you could open that gave you access to a sand filled tunnel to the surface. They gave you a sort of large military issued spoon to dig through this sand, although in later years someone calculated that the top few feet of sand would have been turned into glass, which the spoon, military-issued or not, would not be able to scrape through. Now there is a good reason to have a woman down there with you: your top-side wife would dig down through anything to make sure you weren't there any longer than you were supposed to be. “Now get home and fertilize the lawn, it seems to be burning”.
Our guide was a park ranger who had actually interviewed people that were stationed in control rooms so she could give us some details. She was very good.
We went topside and drove to the launch site related to this control room. We drove down dirt roads with right angle corners that seemed only to be in the spots they were in so that the cars wouldn't hit the cattle. We came to a square of chain-linked fence again. We parked, Beth picked up her book, and I walked in.
This ranger was holding court in a more free-form method where the tourists would ask questions and he would answer them. I had a lot of questions, which he answered. He knew a lot about the system because he was a retired launch-control operator. He had state trooper sunglasses. two hearing aids, and a very large thermos of coffee. As he constantly drank his caffeine, he talked, and talked. He was a professional talker. He was perfect for the job. If this stuff wasn't totally de-classified he would have been kidnapped by the Russians long ago after Boris came to an open house day some years ago. Fortunately for us, the Russians have no interest in any of this stuff any more because everybody has bigger and better stuff, and the Russian government is so strapped for cash that they couldn't afford to have anyone type the stuff up and file it.
There was a thick glass cover over the missile so that we could look in and to keep the large hole from filling in with critters from the desert. The missile itself is much larger than the picture makes it seem. If it was at ground level, it would seem very tall and impressive. Hidden in it's hole and just peeking out, it had a sinister air to it. Go ahead, try me.
These amazing systems were designed and built in an very short time. It wasn't known if they would all work, but there were enough of them scattered around that somebody was gonna suffer.
Officer Chatty gave us a LOT of insight into how accurate these things could be. Even if the nose was filled with rocks (which it wasn't), it would be a formidable weapon.
When somebody asked about the control-room egg being able to survive a direct hit, Mr. Chatty confirmed that it could, but the inhabitants always wondered whether the egg would survive the 60 to 600 foot fall into the bottom of the crater afterward. The goal of course, is to launch these things before the other missiles could hit them. Of course, at that point we would have missiles flying in both directions heading towards empty silos. That wasn't our plan, so the goal was to launch first, and since you are launching things anyway. russian silos may not be the only targets. We have have always had First Strike capability that can go from passive to full attack in less time than you could call home to tell your spouses about what you saw fly by your office window.
We heard about some false alarms in the 60s that were pretty close to changing history enough that I am pretty sure that global warming would not be on any one's minds right now, and the concept of what a Government used to be would be difficult for little Jimmy to comprehend when you explain it to one of his heads.
The cold war is over. The secrets and technology behind the fear was amazing.
Our new stuff is even better and scarier.
Our current developments are only revealed to the public when a PR boost is called for. Somebody I worked with in New York used to be a mechanic on a top secret “jumping” jet called a Harrier. No talk, no pictures, everything was hush-hush. In a break room between shifts he was watching the Six Million Dollar Man on TV and they showed one of these science-fiction jets land vertically and the star of the show took off a helmet and strolled up to the camera. It remained top-secret for several more years, but little “promos” like that would give boosts to military recruitment efforts. He STILL couldn't talk to his buddies about what he did for a living.
Well here are pictures of the missle stuff. Un-Classified.
Of course, you SHOULD print out the pictures so that you have some evidence to eat when they come for you, it's more exciting to be frantically stuffing 16 photos into your mouth than saying "just Google it".

(Click on the picture for more)


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