Up close and personal with a giant Titan nuclear missile

The Titan Missile Museum is a fascinating look inside one of the Cold War’s greatest terrors: the nuclear missile silo. Take a step back in time with this incredible photo tour.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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Titan Missile Museum

Just south of Tucson, Arizona, is the Titan Missile Museum, the only Titan ICBM silo you can tour. 

For the full story, check out Apocalypse then: Inside the chilling Titan Missile Museum

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Like when it was an active installation, you can't just wander onto the base.

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Fences and security

Despite elaborate security measures, the military didn't foresee people on foot as much of a threat.

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After buying your ticket, you head onto the base itself. 

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Down into history

If you're able, the normal entrance is down a few dozen stairs.

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Steel and concrete

There's a particular smell to military bases: steel, concrete and hydraulic fluid.

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You can see several flights down through the grating.

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My, what big doors you have

While the security on the surface was OK, down here things get serious.

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Doors and doors

Multiple massive steel doors secure the facility. Or at least, they used to. 

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Now that is a serious door bolt.

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There are two directions to go. One shorter passage goes to the Launch Control Center. The other goes to the missile.

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Launch Control Center

The Launch Control Center is a slice out of time. Above here is the living quarters. 

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Owner's manual

Want to launch an ICBM? There's a manual for that.

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It's incredible to think what was possible with so little computing power.

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Banks of buttons

This bank of instruments could be straight out of a retro sci-fi movie or a Fallout game.

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Note the curve of the ceiling. This section of the facility is circular, with a domed ceiling for strength. 

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Fairly spartan living quarters for the four-man crew.

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A normal-looking kitchen, except for the curved walls.

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I wonder if Staff Sergeant Prievo has been back here.

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Suit up

Back down the corridor now, toward the missile.

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Rocket fuel isn't exactly human-friendly. 

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The main corridor to the missile, allowing access and carrying the cables required to control and launch the missile. 

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Joints allowed flexing of the cableway in case of a nearby nuclear attack.

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Beyond the door

Not dramatic at all.

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Titan II

The missile! Well, the top part anyway. 

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Ready for launch

Retractable platforms allowed access to every part of the missile. 

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My, you're a tall one

Though 103 feet (31.4m) tall, the Titan II is only 10 feet (3m) wide. 

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Fast launch

Unlike its predecessor, the Titan II could be stored with its oxidizer fuel already onboard, so it could be ready to launch in under a minute.

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The basic tour ends here, with views of the missile about two-thirds of the way up. The more advanced tours continue the exploration.

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Level 7

A tiny elevator drops us down to level 7, the base of the missile.

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The base of a Titan II missile. 

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Long way up

That's sunlight from the glass-covered viewing area.

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Missing motors

The Stage 1 motors would have been here; you can see the platform cut out to fit around them and allow access. We'll see the Stage 1 engine later.

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Into the abyss

This is the view down, below the platform. It's a concrete wedge, forcing the rocket exhaust into two tunnels that channel it out and then up, parallel to the silo, and eventually out into the atmosphere. 

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Cableway beauty

I'm sure aesthetics weren't on the engineer's minds when designing this place, but how cool does this look?

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There were multiple antennas, some permanently mounted on the surface, and others that would telescope up out of the ground in case the others were destroyed.

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AN/TPS-9, or "tipsies" was a motion-sensing Doppler radar surveillance system. 

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The 760-ton (700 metric ton) silo door could be opened in 20 seconds. Now it is permanently half open to show that the silo has been decommissioned. 

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Titan from above

The open part of the silo is covered in glass, and it offers a unique view.

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Stage 1

The LR-87 had twin motors, together creating 430,000 pounds of thrust (1,900 kN). It consumed 170 gallons (640 liters) of fuel per second.

This would have been hanging off the bottom of the missile, as seen in the earlier slide.

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The reaction of the propellant and oxidizer is hypergolic, which means it ignites when combined without a spark. You wouldn't want to be standing here at the business end when that happens.

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Stage 2

After the first stage ran out of fuel, it was jettisoned and the second stage, seen here, took over. It was less powerful, 100,000 pounds of thrust (445 kN), but burned for 15 percent longer, about 3 minutes. This pushed the Titan II to about 200 miles above the Earth. 

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Desert desolation?

Though it looks like it's in the middle of nowhere, Tucson is only about 20 minutes away and the town of Green Valley is right down the hill. 

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A better idea of scale. That's the nose cone/reentry vehicle. To the right, about the size of a refrigerator, is a scale model of the bomb.

For the full story, check out Apocalypse then: Inside the chilling Titan Missile Museum.

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