Despite being a scary time in US history, the operation of the Minuteman Missile silos in the prairies of South Dakota is a very important part of US history. Fully constructed and equipped in November of 1963, the Delta-09 silo was active until September 1991 when all of our nation’s 450 Minuteman II missiles were taken offline.
The Delta-09 Missile Silo and Delta-01 Launch Control Facility were staffed year round, 24 hours a day for decades. In whiteout blizzards or 110-degree heat, there was always a full staff behind the wheel. In 1993, the facility was put on “caretaker” status and in 1998 Congress and President Clinton designated Delta-01 and Delta-09 as the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
Since then, slight modifications have been made to turn it into an interpretive site and the missile silo has been welded partially shut and closed off with glass and aluminum to allow visitors to see inside.
Recently, a brand new visitor center was constructed at Exit 131 that highlights the roles that the Launch Facility and Missile Silo had during the cold war. They also have exhibits on what life was like during that time and the history of the nuclear arms race.
Once you finish at the visitor center, there are two more stops to be made. At Exit 127, you will find the Delta-01 Launch Facility and if you get there early, you can reserve tickets to go down in the facility. The tickets are free but they can only take down so many people in a day, so be sure to reserve your tickets early. Further down the interstate, at Exit 116, you will the Delta-09 Missile Silo welded partially open and on display for visitors.
The visitor center has two major events going on this year in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks Service. First, on July 30th, they are having a public ceremony in honor of the START 1 Treaty Anniversary. There will be a cake cutting ceremony and all visitors are encouraged to attend. The START 1 Treaty was the document responsible for allowing the missile site to be converted into an educational interpretive site.
Next, on September 24th, they are having a grand opening ceremony for the visitor center and expect to have around 1500 people present. They will be inviting the Head of the Global Strike Command, the Secretary of the Interior, and any members of Congress that had pivotal roles in getting the site set-up and part of the Parks Service.
If cold war history, or even history in general, is something you really enjoy then I highly recommend checking out the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site as soon as you can, or possibly even during one of their big 2016 events.