A blast from the past

Trip Start May 06, 2010
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30
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Trip End Oct 14, 2010


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Where I stayed
Landmark Country Inn

Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I went to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in the morning.  I didn't have a reservation.  All their tours were booked but at 12:30 they start a wait-list in case there are no-shows.  I killed some time and got my name on the list.

I went to a local store to check out their agates.  There is a type of agate called Fairburn agate that is found around the park, which are really pretty, but that isn't what they had.  I was told that the Fairburn agates have gotten really hard to find.  Then I stopped at a place that offers helicopter rides.  Their rides are short and expensive but they do fly over Badlands National Park.  I couldn't do it then since I had to get back to see if I would get on a tour.

They had some no-shows so I got on a tour.  We all drove in a caravan to the first of the two sites, which is the launch control center.  From the outside it's not clear what the building is for.  It's obviously not residential but it doesn't look very commercial either.  Eight people lived here at a time.  Six were security people, one was a cook and one was the man in charge. 

Below the building is what's known as the "capsule".  You take an elevator down and then go through a very thick blast door to get into it.  Inside are a bunch of electronics, two chairs and two bunk beds.  Two people worked in the capsule at a time on 24 hour shifts.  They were the people who actually turned the keys to launch the missiles.  Each capsule controlled 10 missiles, which were at other sites several miles away in roughly a circle around the launch control center. 

During the Cold War there were 15 launch control centers and 150 missiles scattered across South Dakota and many more in other Great Plains states.  As a result of the START treaty many of these were closed and destroyed, including all of them in South Dakota except the two sites on this tour.

We then drove to the missile silo.  You don't get to go down into the silo.  They've slid the blast door on top partway off and put windows over the top so you can look down into the silo at the top of a Minuteman II missile.  The missile silos were unmanned.  There is a service elevator but, as a security measure, it took 30 minutes to go down.

I then headed back to Badlands National Park.  I intended to go back for the helicopter ride but it got to late to get there before closing.  Just before sunset I started heading for Pierre.
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