In 1963, the United States armed 54 missile silos with launchable nuclear bombs, which could travel some 6,000 miles each and kill millions of people, flash-blind hundreds of thousands and leave a blanket of nuclear fallout.
Beginning in 1982, as a result of a nuclear deterrent modernization program, the Defense Department destroyed the silos and mothballed the missiles. But one silo and its defanged missile near what would become a retirement community in southern Arizona called Green Valley, were preserved as a museum, a monument to the cold war. The Titan Missile Museum, 25 miles south of Tucson, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Take a one-hour tour or opt for a $80 “top-to-bottom” inspection, in which eight underground floors can be thoroughly explored; many afford a frighteningly intimate look at the unarmed missile, still on its launchpad. It weighs 330,000 pounds and stands 103 feet tall. You can touch it.
Chuck Penson, the museum’s archivist and historian, recalls a tour he once gave to a former Soviet military commander familiar with the USSR’s missile defenses. “When he was on top of the silo looking down and heard the magnitude of power that could have been unleashed,” Penson says, “he put his head in his hand and meditated for a moment. It was clear that he found it a little upsetting.”