Vandenberg Air Force Base

Yesterday during a tour of Vandenberg Air Force Base I was surprised to learn that there are absolutely no planes that fly in or out of the base. They only have one runway… and it’s 15,000 ft long (and 200 ft wide); it was designed for the Space Shuttle. But after the Challenger blew up in 1986, they scrapped any future west-coast shuttle launches due to a regional atmospheric condition, among other things, that was prohibitive of safe launches and landings. So with no Space Shuttles, and no planes, what goes on at Vandenberg? Well, for starters, Susan MF Helms lives there. But more importantly, the base specializes in missiles & rockets.

Above is a replica of a Minuteman ICBM. The missile system was routinely tested and developed at Vandenberg along with the Atlas, Titan, Peacekeeper, and Thor systems. They also routinely launch satellites into orbit. I had the pleasure of watching the first Delta IV Heavy launch from the west coast about a month back, which contained a satellite for the NRO, who have an office located at Vandenberg. The Delta IV was launched from SLC-6, which was designed for the Titan III, modified for the Space Shuttle, and most recently renovated to accommodate the Delta IV Heavy.

One of the stops on the tour was at the Space and Missile Heritage Center, located at historic SLC-10.

The museum hosts a fantastic assortment of historical gadgets, maquettes, and warhead artifacts. The control panels for the minuteman defense system have built in ash trays, and lots of buttons.

These control panels were designed as part of a redundant system to launch nuclear missiles. In order to launch a missile, there would have to be a total of four key turns; two from the crew stationed 80 ft below the surface of the Earth in a missile silo, and two from a separate control center.

The control panels in the missile silos are a bit smaller. They are designed for two war plans (A & B), and also have an inhibit code in order to cancel a launch that was not authorized, if the situation ever occurred. A war plan would consist of multiple missiles being launched from different locations. Currently, there are about 450 active, land-based ICBMs, which are located in Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota.

A definite highlight of the museum was they key itself, which coincidentally had the term “Eagle” imprinted on it:

And as if holding the key was not enough;

There were a slew of warhead replicas, and smaller models of re-entry designs. The rockets themselves were designed to carry multiple (up to 10) warheads into the upper atmosphere, with each warhead having a different target.

In the rear of the above image is a cross section of the payload of a missile, similar to this one which used to be full of nukes, located in England, and pointed at Russia:

There was also a fantastic display that I didn’t expect to see at a missile museum:

Along with the three engine stages of a Minuteman ICBM:

After visting the museum, we went and had lunch at the Pacific Coast Club. I had known prior to the trip that the space industry had minimal involvement with artists and architects in their research and design, however, I did not anticipate the significance of the need for artists within our armed forces:

The highlight was a fantastic photo, printed on canvas of course:

But at least the food was good, in a good way. But better yet, after eating we learned from our professor Marko Peljahn that the ULA had granted us clearance to SLC-2:

The pad was built in 1958, and had a fantastic, vintage NASA logo emblazoned on one side of it:

In order to go inside, they gave us hard-hats, and kindly instructed us that if we took any photos of the Delta II rocket that was being assembled, we would be arrested. My hard-hat had some fantastic stickers of rockets on it, and Daniel’s had “NASA KSC” (Kennedy Space Center) written on the back:

My experience inside SLC-2 cannot be described with words, but rather, by a piece of metallic tape:

The engineer that gave me this piece of tape described it as 100-mile-an-hour tape, except that rockets go a lot faster (a couple miles a second at certain points…). There were quite a few other types of tape stuck to that rocket, and a slew of zip-ties as well. They told me it cost about $365 a roll, which is probably the inflated government price. I found it a bit cheaper online at around $250 a roll. It was great to see the tape being used not only on the rocket, but also to affix random signs and notes to the walls and doors.

And with the conclusion of the tour, the representative from ULA gave the entire group our own “challenge coins.” Apparently, if I go to a bar with some aerospace industry buds and ask someone to produce their challenge coin and they don’t have it, they have to buy me a drink.

One Comment

  1. Posted January 6, 2015 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Interesting posts you post on your blog, i have shared this article on my fb

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