Growing up in the 1980s the cold war was always present. During our childhood, we watched cold-war movies. Of course, the U.S. and Soviet Union would launch nuclear missiles at each other. Many of these movies featured the great plains. The ground would often open to reveal a nuclear missile. However, very few people actually get to see a nuclear missile in person. At the Minuteman Missile NHS (National Historic Site), you can visit one of these destructive missiles. The Minuteman Missile NHS protects two facilities that were once part of a Minuteman Missile field. This missile field covered the far western portion of South Dakota from 1963 through the early 1990s.
The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is located in South Dakota close to the Badlands National Park. You can read about our visit to the Badlands on our Badlands National Park Camping blog post.
Minuteman Missile NHS Facts
- Established as National Historic Site in 1999
- Consist of three separate facilities
- National Park Service Visitor Center
- Launch Control Facility Delta-01
- Delta-01 Requires a Tour Reservation
- Cost $12.00 – Adult age 17 & over $8.00 – Youth ages 6-16
- Launch Facility / Missile Silo Delta-09
- Contains the only remaining intact components of a nuclear missile field that once consisted of 150 Minuteman II missiles, 15 launch-control centers, and covered over 13,500 square miles
HISTORY OF THE MINUTEMAN MISSILE FACILITY
The Great Plains housed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) during the cold war. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week members of the Air Force staffed the launch facilities. These facilities could launch a nuclear missile at a moment’s notice.
Under the grass plains of South Dakota, thousands of missiles stood on alert. These destructive Minuteman missiles were a Cold War deterrent. At all times a pair of missileers lived 30 feet underground. They were one command away from launching a missile that could destroy civilization on another continent.
The Great Plains housed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), and their controllers. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week Air Force members manned the launch control facilities. Therefore, nuclear missiles could be launched at a moment’s notice.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site’s purpose is to tell the story of these Minuteman Missiles. It also tells the story of nuclear deterrence and the Cold War.
The minuteman missile complex was a deterrent to a nuclear strike by the Soviet Union. By being placed underground in separate locations the hope was enough missiles would survive an attack. . This would ensure devastation on the aggressor nation.
The end of the Cold War created a unique opportunity to preserve the Minuteman missile complex. The National Park Service and the Air Force agreed to preserve two Minuteman sites. This included the Delta One Launch Control Facility and the Delta Nine Launch Facility.
The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site was created on November 29, 1999. As a result, the Minuteman Missile site would be preserved.
On September 27th, 2002 the Air Force officially turned Minuteman Missile National Historic Site over. The Delta-09 site was the location of the transfer ceremony.
Use the map below to see the sites we visited, and discuss Click on the menu on the top left to view the locations, and click the star to add the map to your maps
Visit All Three Minuteman Missile NHS Locations
#1 National Park Visitor Center
24545 Cottonwood Road
Philip, SD 57567
Like any other National Park System sites, the visitor center is the best place to start. Here you can explore the story of the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile System. You will learn about its role in the larger context of the Cold War.
The visitor center is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and open 8:00 am-4:00 pm the remainder of the week.
Although 30 minutes long we strongly encourage you to sit for the movie titled “Beneath The Plains: The Minuteman Missile On Alert.”. This is a great movie that provides an introduction to the history of the Minuteman Missile system. The link above will take you to a 3-minute trailer of the video.
#2 Delta One (D-01) Launch Control Facility
North Side of Exit 127, Interstate 90
“It just looked like a ranch house, it looked like a sort of, one-story house, you might see elsewhere in the area. Slightly more modern perhaps than others. What distinguished these launch centers, was that they were surrounded by fences, and they were highly secured areas. So, you couldn’t just drive up and go in like you might be able to do with someone’s house in the American West, where you can sort of show up and they’ll invite you in for dinner. But, beneath this house, is actually what was really interesting.” ~ Historian Gretchen Heefner
Approaching D-01 from I90, it looks like a lone ranch house in the open grassland. Over the years, most travelers on I90 probably did not give the site a second look. Nor did they know what military capabilities lay there.
This small unassuming building served as a multi-purpose facility.
Launch Control Facility – Topside
The topside building functioned as support for the underground Launch Control Center which lay 31 feet below the ground.
The mission of the topside crew was to support the missileers stationed underground. There were always eight people on the topside. They were all enlisted Air Force personnel from Ellsworth Air Force Base, 60 miles to the west. This personnel included a top-ranking Non-Commissioned Officer, a cook, and six security police. They worked three straight days on, followed by three days off.
The topside building also housed a day room, dining area, kitchen, and recreation area for those staying there.
Underground Launch Control Center
The launch control center (LCC) was 31 feet underground.
Two missileers worked 24-hour alert duty shifts within the LCC. An eight-ton blast door sealed the missiles in. This door had to be opened from within before an oncoming Missile Combat Crew could enter the LCC. A Dominoes Pizza logo covers the D-01 blast door. It also had the words “World Wide Delivery In 30 Minutes Or Less Or Your Next One Is Free”
This two-person crew would spend most of their time monitoring the status of the 10 missiles they were responsible for. They remotely monitored maintenance at the silos and assisted with the dispatch of the security police.
The missileers would relax when not staffing the launch room. They did this by reading, watching television, or studying for master’s degrees through the Air Force educational program. A single bunk was also provided. Therefore, one missileer could sleep while the other crewmember kept an eye on the weapons system also.
Get a Reservation to Tour the Underground Launch Control Center
The Delta-01 is easily accessible from the highway. The site is visible to visitors from outside the perimeter gate. However, to tour the facility a reservation is required.
The Delta-01 tour requires advanced reservations and a small fee. The cost of the tour is $12.00 for adults and $8.00 – children under 16.
This Ranger-led tour will last approximately 45-60 minutes.
Built for nuclear war Delta-01 features a small elevator and a tight underground space. Therefore, the underground launch facility is not accessible to wheelchairs and service animals.
#3 Delta-09 Missile Silo
Six miles west of Wall, South Dakota, south of I-90, exit 116
“Minuteman-land is eerie. On the surface, no weapon is visible. But beneath the empty prairies and forested hills, the gyroscopes are eternally spinning; these are the master navigators of jam-proof guidance systems, each ready to steer holocaustal destruction to a pre-selected target.”
~ John Hubbell, “The Missile That Closed The Gap,” Readers Digest, October 1962.
The Delta-09 site is easily accessible from I90.
From 1963 until the early 1990s, the missile silo at Delta-09 contained a fully operational Minuteman Missile. This missile carried a 1.2 megaton nuclear warhead. Equally important, the missile was never launched.
Approximately 1,000 Minuteman missiles sat throughout the plains from the 1960s into the early 1990s. Visitors can now drive to the site and easily view this missile.
The Delta-09 facility consists of a silo 12 feet in diameter and 80 feet deep made of reinforced concrete with a steel-plate liner. The silo has been welded shut, and fitted with a glass roof. However, inside sits an unarmed Minuteman missile.
In addition to the missile silo, visitors will see support structures such as antennas and motion sensors.
Due to its isolation, there are no Rangers on site. Therefore, at Delta-09 there is a quick phone-led tour of the facility. This way you can learn all about the missile silo, and how it operated.
Our Minuteman Missile NHS Visit
This stop at Minuteman Missile NHS was a part of our cross-country trip to Yellowstone National Park.
The Badlands National Park was a must-see as we planned this trip. However, during the planning process, we came across Minuteman Missile NHS. Well since the visitor center is across the street from the Badlands, and we grew up during the Cold War, it seemed appropriate.
We made sure to get reservations for the Delta-01 well ahead of time. As a result, we were able to see all three sites during our visit.
The only NPS dedicated to the Cold War is the Minuteman Missile NHS. In our opinion, it truly is a true American treasure. As a result, we assure you that this National Park site will not disappoint.
Looking down into a missile silo at a Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile is an awesome sight. Touring the underground launch facility reminded them of things they had seen only in video games.
We strongly recommended stopping at this one-of-a-kind National Historic Site.
Minuteman Missile NHS Junior Ranger Program
Of course, we had to complete the Jr Ranger program. This is a great program offered for free at most National Park sites. You can learn more about the Jr Ranger program on our Junior Ranger Program post.
After completing this program you will learn why Minuteman Missiles were so important during the Cold War, and how the Air Force personnel lived and worked at Minuteman sites.