Thursday, July 16, 2009

Former Nuclear Missile Site Now a Tourist Attraction

A former nuclear missile launch center that closed as the Cold War was winding down, opened on Monday to a public curious to see what life was like at the once-top secret site.

The Ronald Reagan Minuteman site in eastern North Dakota is surrounded by wheat and soybean fields and looks pretty much the same as it did in 1997 when it was still being used.

Visitors can now go underground and view where Air Force officers once sat to wait for a possible nuclear war. It was their job to monitor 10 nearby Minuteman III nuclear missiles - and to launch them if ordered. The former living quarters, a building that stands about 60ft above the underground nuclear missile control center, still has the kitchen equipment, televisions, pool table and magazines it did when the site was closed.

On Monday a freight elevator took about 30 visitors to two cavernous rooms that resemble railroad tunnels, where the underground air smelled faintly of diesel fuel and parts of the floor were sticky with hydraulic fluid. One room housed diesel generators and air conditioners to cool the equipment. Another was for two officers who worked 24-hour shifts.

The missile site, about three miles north of Cooperstown and about 70 miles northwest of Fargo, is one of a handful of US locations that commemorate the Cold War. The National Park Service operates a former Minuteman II launch center and missile silo in South Dakota. In Arizona, historic preservationists operate a former Titan nuclear missile site.

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