Titan Missile Museum History
The Titan Missile Museum is the only remaining Titan II site open to the public, allowing you to re-live a time when the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union was a reality.
The Titan II was capable of launching from its underground silo in 58 seconds and could deliver a nine megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 6,000 miles (approximately 10,000 km) away in less than thirty minutes. For more than two decades, 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States stood “on alert” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, heightening the threat of nuclear war or preventing Armageddon, depending upon your point of view.
An Arizona Treasure
Proclaimed an Arizona Treasure by former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, the Titan Missile Museum is a unique facility that is comprised of two parts: The Count Ferdinand von Galen Titan Missile Museum Education and Research Center, and the Titan Missile National Historic Landmark. The Count Ferdinand von Galen Titan Missile Museum Education and Research Center is situated directly adjacent to the launch complex and houses an exhibit gallery, museum store, classroom, and an archival storage area.
The Titan Missile National Historic Landmark is former Titan II launch complex 571-7. This former operational missile site was originally part of the 571st Strategic Missile Squadron (SMS), 390th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW), Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB), Arizona. It is the sole remaining Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) complex of the 54 that were “on alert” during the Cold War between 1963 and 1987.
From Sword to Plowshare
Launch complex 571-7 came off alert on November 11, 1982. Work to turn the missile site into a museum began in February of 1983, when Col Paul Comeaux, commander of the 390th SMW, contacted Charles Niblett, president of the Tucson Air Museum Foundation, the predecessor of the Arizona Aerospace Foundation. Colonel Comeaux proposed that the Foundation consider operating one of the soon-to-be-deactivated missile sites around Tucson as a museum.
Niblett contacted Col Hugh Matheson, USAF (Ret.), the former deputy commander for maintenance at the 390th SMW, and Lt Col Orville Doughty, USAF (Ret.), the former commander of the 390th Missile Maintenance Squadron. Together, these three men took on the tremendous task of convincing the Foundation Board, the Air Force, and the Tucson community that this project was both worthwhile and feasible.
By September of 1985, the necessary parties were in agreement and the paperwork was complete. The Air Force would retain ownership of missile site 571-7, but lease it to Pima County. Pima County, in turn, would sublease the site to the Foundation for the purpose of operating the Titan Missile Museum.
Before the Foundation could open the Titan Missile Museum, several modifications had to be made to the missile site. All of these modifications were made for the purpose of demonstrating that launch complex 571-7 is no longer an operational missile site. For example, before missile N-10 could go on display in the launch duct, holes were cut in each of its propellant tanks and in the heat shield of the Reentry Vehicle. Then the missile was displayed on the surface of the site for 30 days to allow satellites to confirm that it was no longer operational. After the missile was installed in the launch duct, the silo closure door was permanently placed in the half-open position (six huge concrete blocks prevent it from opening any further) and a large window was placed over the open portion of the launch duct to facilitate visitor and satellite viewing.
The Titan Missile Museum opened its doors to the public on May 21, 1986.
The site was designated a National Historic Landmark in April of 1994, in recognition of the important role that the Titan II played in American history. There are fewer than 3,000 historic places in the United States that bear this national distinction, and this status is rarely conferred on sites that are less than 50 years old. Launch complex 571-7 was just 31 years old when it achieved its landmark status. It is further distinguished by the fact that it is one of only two ICBM sites in the entire world that have been preserved for the benefit of the public.
Since opening its doors, the museum has hosted more than 1.5 million visitors from around the world. Parts of the Star Trek® movie First Contact were filmed at the museum. Additionally, the Titan Missile Museum was featured on the History Channel in two separate series in August of 2007: Lost Worlds: Secret A-Bomb Factories; and Mega Movers: Army Mega Moves. In 2012 it was featured in the reality TV show The Great Escape on TNT. The museum was also featured in a short documentary on nuclear tourism by National Geographic and in two documentaries that appeared on PBS as part of the American Experience series: Uranium, Twisting the Dragon’s Tail and Command and Control. Finally, the museum was featured twice on the Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum series, most recently in a segment entitled The Man Who Saved the World, the story of Stanislav Petrov, the Soviet officer who may have prevented WWIII.
The Titan Missile Museum showcases the dramatic vestiges of the Cold War between the U.S. and former Soviet Union and provides a vivid education about the history of nuclear conflict – a history of keeping the peace.
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