We were warned that we needed to beat the crowds, 'easy' we thought. There are only limited places each day, 'not a problem' we sneered back.
The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site seems harder to enter now it is decommissioned than when it was ground zero for America's nuclear defence. We gave it our best shot though, up at 5am with an hour and a half drive ahead of us- we aimed to arrive 30 mins before the tickets for that day were handed out (only 36 tickets in total on a 'first come first served' basis). We arrived on schedule and already there was a queue. Did we do enough to get in? after all, for us, was a one shot deal…
Once we realised we had done enough to get tickets we could rest easy and take a short trip to Badlands National Park whilst we waited for our tour at 1.45pm. Badlands is a geological feature left over from an ocean that divided the US continent millions of years ago, it is very impressive but the damp weather meant we probably didn't see the best of it. Where sunshine highlights the incredible colour and strata we got a more muddy display in weather more akin to a London autumn day, sadly.
Minuteman Missile launch control.
In classic 'War Games' stylee we saw the living quarters for the minuteman launch team (the ground crew that maintained the base), The whole complex was purposefully left exactly as it was on the last day of operation as they knew it would become a museum. We then went underground to see where, if Russia had launched a nuclear attack, America would have launched 10 1.2 megatonne missiles from (one fifth of the US's retaliation would have come from this one small room under the plains in South Dakota). Five other teams would have lunched the other 40 missiles effectively ending life on earth...a sobering thought.
Seeing where the padlocked launch codes were kept and where the keys to launch were turned in unison really was chilling. The fact the two missileers (I never knew that was a word) would probably never get out of the bunker made it even more macabre, a Russian nuclear strike would have melted the sand in the escape hatch into glass and fused the escape hatch shut!
Thankfully it never came to that and now the operations room is open to the public and the missile silo (complete with a non lethal missile) is a 10 minute drive away. A great experience and well worth getting up for.