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Traveling Back in Time to the Cold War at the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

Traveling Back in Time to the Cold War at the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

I’ve always had a fascination with the Cold War.  I wasn’t alive for the majority of it, but when I was a kid Russia (or the USSR as it was called then, children) still had a lot of mystique.  I remember vividly sleeping in the Soviet Space exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History during a school field trip sleep over.  I feel asleep looking up at a mock-up of Sputnik.  The enchantment didn’t end there.  I took Russian language, literature, politics and history classes in college.  I still dream often of visiting there and would have named my daughter Anastasia if I hadn’t been vetoed by the husband.

protection through power motto in cold war I was eleven when the Berlin Wall fell.  I remember one of my friends bought a chunk of it for $100 at Neiman Marcus.  The irony of that action wasn’t apparent to my child mind like it is now.  Except for that, it was like the Cold War just disappeared.  In high school, a friend of mine went to Russia and it didn’t seem all that odd.  Ten years before, it would have been unheard of.

When I was looking at things to see in Arizona during our latest trip there, I stumbled upon the Titan Missile Museum about a half hour south of Tucson.  I was thrilled!  It is one of a kind.  While you can stumble upon a Titan missile in a museum here or there, all the other Titan missile silos were destroyed under START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty),  a series of treaties in the early ’90s between Russia and the US reducing ICBM and nuclear weapons in both countries.

There is a similar site in South Dakota (definitely on our to do list!) with the Minuteman missile managed as a National Historic Site by the NPS.  However, the Minuteman missiles were newer and couldn’t have the same 1960’s spy movie feel.

I was to find that at the Titan Missile Museum in spades.

We arrived at the museum on a beautiful Sunday morning in February.  The outside of the museum had a little bit of an Air Force nostalgia feel.

US Flag

The US flag flying proud over the Titan Missile Museum grounds.

Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

1960’s Air Force Security Police M151A1 Military Utility Tactical Truck

Large HF Discone Antenna

 

ANTPS-39 Titan Missile Museum

ANTPS-39 Radar surveillance system. These “tipsies” formed a radar beam that deployed security when broken.

Stepping inside the museum, we took a look at the small exhibit and paid our money for the tour.  They handed us plastic cards with our tour number on it.  We arrived early so that we could be in the first tour of the day.  This paid off for us, for when they called the number there were only 7 people on our tour.

The tour started by us watching a video about the site, the Titan missiles, an overview of Cold War security and tour safety.  The tallest among us (which did not include me) had to put on hard hats.  Apparently I would slide right under any hard objects that other, normal sized people might hit their heads on.

We then descended underground.  Their are eight levels in all, but our basic tour didn’t visit all of them.  They give more expensive, comprehensive tours at various times through the year, but our visit did not coincide with any of them.  I shouldn’t have worried.  The basic tour was pretty freaking awesome.

titan missile museum arizona

Just one of the thick blast doors protecting the underground areas.

In one of the myriad checkpoints, you call in your code, enter, then burn the paper and place it in the red bucket.

There were large springs throughout the facility engineered to help it survive a direct hit.

The control room. Any action required two people working simultaneously. No one person could deploy a missile.

A closer look at the control panel. The targets were never known to the operators and were identified as “Target 1.” “Target 2,” and “Target 3.”

To get the launch codes, both personnel had to turn their keys in locks to remove them from the red drawer.

A twenty four hour clock in the control room set to local time. There was another clock set on Zulu time (GMT).

titan missile museum arizona

I love this corridor leading from the control room to where you can access the missile.

Moving from the control room to viewing the missile, we learned about all the checks and balances built into processes.  It was a scary time, and no one trusted their neighbor.  They could be a spy!  To make sure that nothing was sabotaged, each crew went through a long list of checks to verify everything you could think of each and every shift.  Including checking out the bomb.

crew suits titan missile museum arizona

The missile fuel was… well… toxic. So you had to dawn a protective suit to work with it.

 

A sign reminding you couldn’t enter this area alone. Just about every place but the dining room had a buddy policy.

 

Titan Missile Museum silo arizona

Looking down the silo from topside. Amazing history here.

I recommend you making this stop if you are in Tucson.  We didn’t bring the kids along on this one, because they were happy playing with their little cousin.  I think that it would be a pretty great history lesson for children 8 and older.  Make sure everyone wears good shoes, because you will be going up and down stairs.  There is a lift if anyone has trouble with ladders, but we had no problems with any of the minimal physical demands of this tour.

Resources :

The Titan Missile Museum website

Cold War Video Clips from the History Channel

 

  1. Tonya {The Traveling Praters} 6 May, 2013

    What a great place to explore. I know my big guys would love a visit here if we ever manage to visit Tucson as a family.

    For the record, I husband would veto Anastasia too, but I love it.

  2. Lish 6 May, 2013

    Wow! I didn’t even know about this. Very interesting. I love all things spy and cold war (except for the poverty and threat of nuclear holocaust, of course).

  3. Alysia 7 May, 2013

    Looks like a really cool place! I never heard of it, but I love the historical aspect. And I love the name Anastasia too…it was on my short list of girl names but my hubs also said no!

  4. Rebecca@R We There Yet Mom? 10 May, 2013

    That place sounds fascinating! Thanks for sharing it with us and linking up this week!

  5. Lisa Goodmurphy 10 May, 2013

    What a cool museum! I studied political science as an undergraduate student and took a couple of courses on cold war politics – fascinating to have a look inside an actual missile silo. We spent a couple of days in St. Petersburg on a Baltic cruise and I loved Russia – hope you get there soon!

  6. Mary {The World Is A Book} 13 May, 2013

    I love finding places like these. My husband is a big military history fan and would love to visit this museum. What an awesome museum to visit. I hope you make it to Russia soon.

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  10. Zak 2 February, 2016

    My wife and I visited Arizona for our one year anniversary last October. One of the things my wife discovered while researching sites to see was the Titan Missile Museum. I couldn’t wait! I’ve loved all things military and this was at the top of my list! After taking the tour we were permitted to roam a bit on the surface. I didn’t want to leave. Just ask my wife, haha. We took probably 100 photos, bought a few things from the gift shop (a mug broke on the flight back home!), and headed back to our hotel. We already decided we’re coming back the next time we’re in Arizona.