Cold War America is on full display at the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site, North Dakota’s coolest State Historic Site.
The Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility and the November-33 Launch Facility are all that remain of the 321st Missile Wing, a missile field activated in 1964 and managed by the Grand Forks Air Base. These two facilities were completed in 1965, and Minuteman II missiles were installed shortly thereafter. A visit to Oscar-Zero includes a guided tour of the 1980s-vintage top-side Launch Control Support Building (LCSB), where an eight-person crew lived and worked in shifts, and a rather dramatic elevator ride underground to the Launch Control Center (LCC), complete with the red missile launch chair at the 1960s-vintage control board. There’s no hacking that thing.
The November-33 Launch Facility is seven miles southeast of Oscar-Zero. Visitors only have access to what’s outside, but laying eyes on the massive launch door is completely worth the stop. Plenty of interpretive panels tell visitors what they’re looking at, and it’s wild to imagine the doors opening and a giant missile bound for the Soviet Union emerging from the prairie.
Since a visit will undoubtedly involve a bit of a drive, get in the mood by listening to the podcasts on the site’s website. And, if you crave more background, pick up Command and Control, Eric Schlosser’s excellent and frightening history of the mismanagement of America’s nukes. Maybe wait until after your visit to watch the classic Cold War film, The Day After.
- Heefner, Gretchen. The Missile Next Door: The Minuteman in the American Heartland. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.
- Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety. New York: The Penguin Press, 2013.
- Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress (repository). http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/