Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

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Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site was established in 1999 to illustrate the history and significance of the Cold War, the arms race, and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) development. The National Historic Site preserves one of the last remaining Minuteman II ICBM systems in the United States.

This National Historic Site consists of three facilities: a main office and two significant Cold War-era sites, a launch control center and a missile silo/launch facility. All three were formerly operated by the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing, headquartered at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota. The facilities represent the only remaining intact components of a nuclear missile field that once consisted of 150 Minuteman II missiles, 15 launch control centers, and covered over 13,500 square miles (35,000 km 2) of southwestern South Dakota. (Note: 450 of the newer Minuteman III missiles are still on active duty, at Malmstrom AFB, MT, Minot AFB, ND and F. E. Warren AFB, WY.) Guided tours start at the main office, which is located just south of Interstate 90 at exit 131. The office is not historically significant; it was created solely as an office for the silo and launch center. The sites can only be toured completely by making advance reservations with the National Park Service at the main office. Tours are approximately two hours long. The silo, known as launch facility Delta Nine (D-09) was constructed in 1963. It occupies 1.6 acres (6,000 m²) one-half mile (800 m) southwest of Interstate 90 at Exit 116 and six miles (10 km) from the town of Wall, South Dakota, in eastern Pennington County. It consists of an underground launch tube ("missile silo") 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter and 80 feet (24 m) deep made of reinforced concrete with a steel-plate liner. An unarmed missile is on display inside. The launch tube's 110-ton cover has been rolled partly away and welded to the rails it rides on. The launch tube was then covered with a glass viewing enclosure. Not only does this permit visitors to see the missile, it means Russian satellites are able to verify that the site is not operational, and hence in compliance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. For safety reasons, tours are not conducted underground. Visitors can conduct self-guided tours of the site during the day by calling a number on their cell phones and walking around the site, listening to the description of various points over the phone. The launch control facility, known as Delta One (D-01), is about 11 miles (18 km) away, to the east in northwestern Jackson County. It occupies approximately six acres (24,000 m²) 1.7 miles (3 km) north of I-90 at Exit 127. It consists of an above-ground building containing a kitchen, sleeping quarters, offices and life support equipment. Below this building is the actual launch control center, buried 31 feet (9.4 m) deep, connected to the building by an elevator. Guided tours are conducted underground here, but are limited to six people at a time due to the very small underground launch control center ("capsule"). Self-guided tours are not possible here; the gate for the fence around D-01 is always locked, just like it was when it was an active launch control facility. Beginning in summer 2007, numerous open houses were held at Delta-01 which greatly increased the numbers of visitors. Additionally, summer-season limited public tour hours were established for drive-up visitors at the Delta-09 silo.

The sprawling missile complex, one of several located in the central United States, was built as a deterrent to a nuclear first strike by the Soviet Union. By placing missiles underground in widely separated locations, it was hoped that regardless of the size of a Soviet missile attack, enough US missiles would survive to ensure devastation on the aggressor nation. The Minutemen remained on alert for nearly 30 years, until the site was de-activated following the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) by President George Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Under the terms of the treaty, the missiles were removed from their silos, and in 1994 the 44th Missile Wing was officially deactivated. The last site was destroyed in 1996, leaving a single launch facility and launch control center to be preserved as Cold War historic sites. D-01 and D-09 were candidates for becoming a national historic site for several reasons:
  • close to a major road ( Interstate 90)
  • close to existing recreational facilities ( Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore)
  • the sites saw limited modification since they were built in the 1960's (true of all sites in the 44 MW).