The Titan Missile Museum tour is perfect those of us who have forgotten – and for those of us who never knew – the Cold War. Some of us (not me!) will recall the "is this the end?" tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis. People my age will think back to Regan-era rhetoric, the Star Wars missile program and countless other NATO versus Soviet mini-conflicts that could’ve spiraled out of control.
Some people on the Titan Missile MuseumÂ tour, like the tweens in my one-hour tour group, will realize that people in America had a legitimate fear of nuclear annihilation. It seemed to be their first exposure to the notion, and their reaction was far stronger than I expected. I was impressed that they felt the gravity of the situation.
Maybe it’s because the Titan Missile Museum near Tucson, Ariz., has an unmistakable end-of-days vibe with its foam-green paint and steel construction. Maybe it’s because Hap, our tour guide, had served in a Titan missile installation and was able to relate first-hand knowledge in plain English, with just the right mix of technical jargon tossed in. His knowledge and delivery elevated the $9.50 entry fee from “good deal” to “cheaper than it should be.” Consider that the entry fee to the Desert Botanical Museum in Phoenix is $22, and you see what you get with the one-of-a-kind Titan Missile Museum tour.
I really don’t want to tell you too much about what you’ll learn and see during the Titan Missile Museum tour. Why spoil your trip by revealing some of the most-interesting facts? I’ll just walk you through what to expect from the one-hour tour -- and I’ll add that there’s a five-hour tour that I definitely mean to take in the future.
Step One – Watch the Video
The one-hour Titan Missile Museum tour starts with a video. It’s about 15 minutes long, and frames what you can expect once you descend into the missile complex. It also gives a hint of the the concepts and conflicts that fueled the Cold War. If you’re tall like me, you’ll have to pick up a hard hat after the video; trust me, it’ll come in handy.
Step Two – Into the Silo
This is where the Titan Missile Museum tour takes you to the launch control center. You’ll also get a good look at the silo and the missile itself. The size and scope impressed me, and I wondered what it would be like to be down there alone for a length of time (OK, here’s my lone semi-spoiler: Crews served a 24-hour rotation.).
Something about the walls below seem to drink in sound and light, which adds to the somewhat creepy atmosphere. I could spend days lurking about and poking my nose into every corner of the silo. If you have a tour guide as good as Hap, you’re going to find out some astounding facts about life in the center -- and about exactly how much punishment it can withstand.
Step Three – Back Topside
You’ll return to the surface and get a look around the site. You’ll be able to look down into the silo, which brings me to one of my few gripes about the Titan Missile Museum tour: It’s hard to get a good photo of the missile. There’s a Plexiglass barrier that reflects, and the upper reaches of the silo are well-shadowed.
You’ll also get to see the engine nozzles topside, which adds a pretty interesting perspective.
Since the Titan Missile Museum tour take you through the the last Titan II missile silo in existence, you might feel like the world is a whole lot safer in regard to nuclear weapons. Well, let’s remember the successors to the Titan II missile program: the nuclear ICBM-carrying submarine. There were 50 Titan II installations during the Cold War – today, there are 18 missile submarines in the US Navy, each carrying 24 missiles.
There’s something else that makes me scratch my head: Missile technology in World War II mostly consisted of the German V2, which could barely hit targets in England with much accuracy. Twenty years later, the Titan II could strike within one mile of a target 6,000 miles away. Bringing it forward today, public perception is the NASA is, at best, stuck in neutral. It hasn’t scored a major win in the public eye. That’s somewhat unfair considering the Mars rovers and many other space probes and an avalanche of technological derivatives we use every day.
But by the measuring stick of human spaceflight, all the nations seem to have regressed. The Titan Missile Museum tour sticks that point home for me. Add this to your “to do” list the next time you’re near Tucson.
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