Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mock missile site

Have you ever had the opportunity to tour a mock missile site? I have done it, twice this week, and I must say that it's one of the coolest things I've ever seen. It's quite a humbling experience to stare down the shaft of a silo that is holding a 80' rocket that will propel a missile 3000-5000 feet at 15,000 feet per second.

Nick's dad was a mechanic that worked on several of the systems at missile sites. There are a bunch of the sites all over Montana (I forget how many) and his job was to go out with a team and fix things when they were wrong. He didn't work on the actual missiles themselves, but they'd work on pretty much everything else that surrounded the missile at the site.

Just getting into a missile site is quite a process. This small blue hatch weighs 166 pounds, and there are two combinations that have to be input in order to lift it from its hole: one by the mechanic working at the site and one by a security officer. Each one of them only has one code, so it takes two people minimum to get into the site.That allows you to raise this 4,000 pound hatch, which is held in place by a large pin basically that is unlocked when you input your combinations. Inside this hatch is a 6' tall steel cork, for lack of a better term, that must be lowered before the ladder is extended to go into the site. I forget how much it weighs but I think it was around 14,000 pounds. Oh, and in case you think it takes a while; nope - it is raised and lowered by a cork screw type machine in 10 seconds. I watched it.Here is the machine that raises the 14,000 pound cork out of the way. See those round gold things? Those are the pins that come out when it is locked and hold it into place. I think they were about 6" in diameter.Everything that is being used at the missile site, save for the missile itself, has to go down this 42" hatch, including all the men and any of their tools. If they are replacing one of the one thousand pound batteries below, it has to be lowered down this hatch. Generator? Hatch. Air conditioner? Hatch.Now the missile itself doesn't go down this hatch. When they are loading the missile into the site, which consists of the warhead, a computer system, a reentry system, a fuel section, and then the rocket booster section, it goes through a giant hole that is covered by this 110 ton concrete door. That door is pushed to the side on a track, basically. However, if the need arises to fire a missile suddenly, there is a massive hydraulic system underneath it that has these huge canisters that will essentially explode, causing a large steel lift to throw the concrete door into whatever field it's next to. 110 tons of concrete....thrown...about 100 yards. Joe is standing on the center of this door below.This is looking down into the silo where the rocket itself sits. The first time I toured this, there were lights on all the way down. Today the lights were not on and Joe didn't know where the switch was so my picture isn't as great as I was hoping, but you still get the idea. This particular "missile" doesn't have a warhead on it, since it's just a trainer. It was still pretty scary looking.

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