Explore decommissioned underground nuclear missile launch centers

You can tour Minuteman Missile Launch Control Centers in North and South Dakota. Here's what they look like inside.

Geoffrey Morrison
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The Minuteman Launch Control Centers of the Dakotas

Our tour, and yours, begins here, at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site visitor's center in South Dakota. It's near one of the main entrances to Badlands National Park.

For more about the launch centers, and our tour, check out Midwest missiles: Minuteman Launch Control Centers hiding in plain sight.

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Delta One

Off a nearby Interstate 90 exit is the Delta-One Launch Control Center. But you'll need to book a tour to get beyond the gate.

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Launch Control Facility

Topside, it looks like a fairly mundane. If it weren't for the fencing and security, you'd think it could be a warehouse.

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The Minuteman missile silos were spread out from the LCC to prevent them being taken out by one enemy attack. As such, each center had a security patrol. 

This is a Cadillac Gage Peacekeeper, a top-heavy lightly armored vehicle built on a Dodge truck chassis.

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Each Launch Control Facility was run by the Facility Manager, a noncommissioned officer. They got their own room, as seen here.

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In addition to the missileers and the Facility Manager, each LCC was staffed by a cook and six security police.

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Meals and time off were spent in the day room.

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Time off

Each LCC was quite far from the nearest town, so they had to make their own fun with TV, movies, books and board games.

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Typically, everyone first entered the facility through this main door. A security station is to the right (camera left).

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Security Control Center

From here, security personnel controlled access to the facility, not just from the outside, but also to the door on the left -- which leads to the elevator down to the underground launch control center.

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Going down

Delta-One has a small elevator, which limits how many people per day can visit. As I said, book in advance!

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Blast door

The blast door was decorated by facility personnel, perhaps during the long South Dakota winters.

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Knock knock

The 8-ton door is so well-balanced it isn't difficult to move. Well, when it's unlocked.

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There's a short tunnel to get to the LCC itself.

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The LCC is inside a reinforced concrete shell, which in this case is 31 feet underground. Other LCCs were typically deeper.

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Each LCC was staffed around the clock by two Air Force officers, the Missile Combat Crew Commander and the Deputy Missile Combat Crew Commander. 

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Missile Combat Crew Commander

Here's the Missile Combat Crew Commander's station. 

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And this was the Deputy Missile Combat Crew Commander's station.

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Each officer had their own lock and key, which they would take with them at the end of their shift. If required, both officers would get the launch codes out of this lockbox.

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In the red box is one of the places where officers would insert their keys to launch the facility's missiles.

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Apart by design

By design, the keys are too far apart for one person to activate both.

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This is the MCCC's status board. 

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Retro tech

It's fascinating to see all the old computer hardware.

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Though quiet now, in its day the computers made this a hot, loud place. 

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Long shift

You're on duty for 24 hours, so you'll need a nap.

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Two more exits east on Interstate 90 is one of the few remaining launch facilities, Delta-Nine. Much like the Titan II missile silo in Arizona, which I've also toured, the silo has a glass roof so you can see the missile.

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Minuteman II

This Minuteman II, seemingly ready in its silo, is a training missile. It has no fuel, engines or a nuclear warhead. 

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Out into the plains

Delta-One isn't the only LCC you can tour. There's another a few hours northeast near Cooperstown, North Dakota. 

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Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site

Though the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site has a different design, the surface facility looks similar on the outside.

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Break room

Here, the break room is much larger.

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Variety (kinda)

Some meals were cooked to order, others were essentially heated-up TV dinners.

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Classic tech

The museum has largely left everything as it was when the site was decommissioned in the 1990s. I was amused to see the same Dustbuster I had in my house growing up.

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Facility Manager

The Oscar-Zero facility was part of the 321st Missile Wing, which had launch a 6,500-square-mile area around Grand Forks, North Dakota. This is the facility manager's room and office.

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Similar to Delta-One, the main entrance is adjacent to the Security Control Center.

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Security Control Center

This is a bit more spacious than at Delta-One. Though all the Minuteman missiles are from the same era, each had slightly different designs. 

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Even more classic tech

Remember fax machines?

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Oscar-Zero has a larger elevator, making it far easier for big groups to visit.

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Underground complex

One of the main differences between Delta-One and Oscar-Zero is that the equipment needed to keep the underground base livable also is underground. 

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Like the LCC, the HVAC equipment and other gear is suspended on a platform to isolate it from attacks.

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For temporary power outages, there's a generator with exhaust routed to the surface. 

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LCC Entrance

Now we're headed inside.

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Locked in

Oscar-Zero's blast door isn't decorated.

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Also more spacious

Oscar-Zero is both deeper, and far larger than Delta-One. Here you can see the shell, with the facility suspended within.

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This is the Missile Combat Crew Commander's station.

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Deputy Missile Combat Crew Commander

Note the missile key slot above the coffee mug at the DMCCC's station.

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Lock box

Yes, it's still locked.

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DACs and more

There's communications gear, analog to digital converters, and a lot of heavy-duty equipment.

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I spy an actual teletype, model AN/UGC-129(V)1.

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Those are some Wolverine-level claws on that bird.

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Thankfully, for all of us, the launch order for these sites never came.

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A few minutes from Oscar-Zero is the November-33 launch complex.

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Unlike at Delta-Nine, this silo is filled in. It is remarkable how small it all is, especially compared to the much-larger Titan II silo.

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The Pyramid

And then there's this! I've wanted to see this in person for ages. It's not strictly related to the Minuteman project, other than being part of the US strategic defense during the Cold War.

It's called the Pyramid of North Dakota, or more accurately, the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex.

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Launch or landing?

Rising out of the plains of northern North Dakota, the Pyramid seems like it was dropped there by aliens. Or perhaps as a landing site for some.  

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Safeguard was a US Army Anti-Ballistic missile program that was scaled back and back and eventually cancelled just a few months after the only complex, this one, was completed. 

Currently you can't go enter, but they do have an excellent photos of what it's like inside.

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Unlike the Minuteman LCCs, the Mickelsen Safeguard Complex is locked. 

Check out the full story behind our tour over at Midwest missiles: Minuteman Launch Control Centers hiding in plain sight.

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