The Titan Missile Museum
||[an error occurred while processing this directive]
6000 E. Valencia · Tucson, AZ
Outside Tuscon, Arizona, exists a museum like no other in the world. It boasts only one exhibit, but it's quite an impressive sight to see. In fact, nowhere else are you able to lay eyes upon an artifact that changed the history of mankind so greatly and broadened the minds of the people of Earth far beyond their own world. That's right, here in an underground facility stands the Phoenix, the world's first warp ship, saved from the Borg by the crew of the Enterprise and piloted by the legendary Zephram Cochrane.
OK, geek check. It's really just an intercontinental ballistic missile. But this is the vessel that was used in Star Trek: First Contact to stand in for the rocket used to launch the first warp ship into space. Remember the scene in which Picard touches the ship and has to explain to Data what it means for him to be able to feel that it's real? Well, that was filmed here. (If you don't remember, I wouldn't worry about it. You can make up for it by having a life.)
This unique attraction is the Titan Missile Museum, once an actual nuclear facility housing an actual combat crew in charge of an actual atomic weapon. From 1963 to 1984, the Air Force maintained this Titan II missile site, one of fifty-four poised ready for the dreaded third World War. After signing an arms-reduction treaty with Russia, the U.S. dismantled all of the missile sites, save this one. It was preserved as a public museum so that civilians would be able to tour the facility and experience what it was like to be inside the control center of such a fear-inducing structure. (Although I have to admit the most fear-inducing moment for me was when I visited the restrooms outside and saw the sign warning "Watch for Rattlesnakes." I decided to hold it.)
We were handed hard hats and given an introductory presentation by one of the retired Air Force volunteers. Then it was outside to see a replica warhead, various support equipment, and the silo door. The path of the 740-ton sliding door is now blocked halfway by giant concrete blocks. As part of the agreement that allowed this facility to remain, the blocks ensure that the door will never be able to open fully again.
The open portion of the silo door is covered by a glass skylight, allowing an aerial view of the weapon inside. Peering down into the silo, we could see the large hole cut into what would be the warhead housing. Further conditions of the agreement that allowed the vehicle to remain dictated that the missile had to be left above ground for thirty days revealing the hole in the nose cone, proving beyond doubt that it was unusable.
Following a tag-team hand-off from our introductory guide to a second, subterranean guide, we made our descent into the underground bunker and were indulged in a thorough description of the security measures taken by the original inhabitants before permission was granted to enter the compound.
We then proceeded through two reinforced concrete doors doors which weighed in at 6,643 pounds apiece. These doors, and the eight-foot-thick walls supporting them, would protect the inhabitants in the event of a nearby blast so that they could complete their mission.
In the control room, our guide explained the launch procedure. The launch codes were kept inside a red cabinet, which required two combinations to be opened. Each crew member knew only one combination. Along with the launch codes, two keys were required, very much like those seen in practically every apocalyptic movie ever made. They, of course, had to be turned simultaneously and their switches were spaced far enough that it would be impossible for one man to activate them both. Once the keys were turned, there was nothing anyone could do to stop the launch procedure. The missile would be on its way, destination unknown, in less than a minute from the time the crew received its orders.
This site had, as most did, three preprogrammed targets. Naturally, the missile could hit only one and the doomed site was provided in the crew's launch orders. The choices were referred to simply as Targets One, Two and Three, as it was determined that crew members would be much more comfortable firing on an ambiguous target than on one with a real name. On rare occasions, these targets were changed and the new ones were programmed in by, of all things, paper punch tape. Although advanced methods did exist, the procedure was deliberately left mechanical, because coding them electronically left the deadly possibility of a clever, unauthorized reprogramming.
After a demonstration of the launch procedure, we were led down the Long Cableway, 200 feet toward the silo. This tunnel is suspended, as is the control center, to absorb the shock from a nearby attack and from the launch of the Titan rocket itself. At the end of the tunnel, windows in the silo permit a second glimpse at the missile, this time from the bottom up. It is an impressive 103 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter, and weighs 14,900 pounds (300,000 pounds fueled). This is where we also learn from Wally that the vehicle we're admiring isn't the actual missile that was housed here, but a training missile transported here from Texas. Oh well, close enough.
Real or not, I was gravely disappointed that I didn't get to touch the missile. For some reason, I had gotten the idea that we could enter the silo on a catwalk and walk around it. I guess that would have just been too dangerous. But what the hell were we wearing these stupid hard hats for, anyway?
At this point, our original guide, who incidentally was a very crotchety old man, showed up and shooed us out, complaining that we were taking too long. He acted as though the longer he was down there, the more it reminded him that someone had taken his big toy away. I took one more picture just to elicit his hey-you-kid-get-outta-my-yard face and quickly departed.
See More Photos of the Titan Missile Museum
Visit Starfleet Headquarters
Originally Visited May 13, 1998
Article and Photos Updated September 30, 2000