Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Visiting the Titan Missile, Biosphere 2 and Friends

We continue to be busy here in Tucson. The park we are staying in is on the Santa Cruz River (? no water) Trail so we have a great place for our walks. The nights have been very cool so we often don't walk until late morning. The long term forecast is for sunny skies and highs in the 80's so we will be walking in the morning and biking on the trail. We have toured local attractions that you can only see in Tucson, The Titan Missile Museum and Biosphere 2. We have also checked out local brew pubs and gotten together with friends. 
The Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley is a unique look at a period of history we lived through. I remember the duck and cover drills in school and all the shelters where we were supposed to go if the Soviet Union launched a nuclear attack. This is a drawing of the site with the entrance stairs in the middle, the command center and living quarters on the left and the missile silo on the rights. The tour takes you to all three.
During the early 60's this site is one of 54 built in three locations, Tucson, Wichita, Kansas and Jacksonville, Arkansas. The Titan II was a major upgrade over the original Titan because it did not have to be lifted out of the silo and fueled because the fuel could be left in the rocket. This meant it could be launched in less than a minute rather than twenty minutes.  
Each four person launch crew had to close the 6,000 pound door after they entered. Nanc was surprised at how heavy it was but did get it to move so if you need help pulling your car she is available.
The launch crew had two officers and two enlisted personnel. The order to launch code, a six digit number, meaning over 16,000,000 possible combinations, could only come from the president (scary today). The number would be sent and each officer would write it down to confirm it was accurate. The code was then entered in the computer and each officer turned their key at the same time activating the launch. Each missile had the option of three targets that were part of the code and not known to those who triggered the launch.
Who would have thought they would trust me with the TOP SECRET launch manual. While the equipment was state of the art in the 60's, including the dial phone, it would be very outdated today. The large spring in the background was so the room did not have to be attached to the walls to prevent damage if a missile hit nearby.  
THE BOMB. Each Titan carried one nine megaton bomb with the explosive power of 90,000 boxcars of TNT. That would be a train 1,534 miles long, the distance from Tucson to Lexington, Kentucky. This is compared to the 15 kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima. 
The Titan missile from inside the silo is quite impressive. These missiles, including the ones taken out of the silos, were also used for all the Gemini manned launches in the 1960's and for interplanetary missions, all between 1959 and 2005.
Looking down into the silo at this powerful missile. In the 1980's President Reagan negotiated a nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union that included the destruction of all the Titan silos. The missiles were removed from the silos and the silos were blown up. This site was the only one preserved with a missile in it. 
The background is the various antenna used to communicate with the command center at nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. At the bottom is the stage one engine that launched the rocket out of the silo. Top is stage two that boosted its speed up to 15,000 mph. These two engines only burned for about five minutes of the 30 minute, 6,000 mile flight to a target in the Soviet Union. The small engine top picture lower left corner would fine tune the the missile to its target.   
The antenna and the top of the silo, which would blow off before launch makes the whole thing look rather harmless. Fortunately, no missile was every launched from any of the 54 Titan sites, but they did the job they were built to accomplish. In the Cold War between the USSR and the US the idea was that if one country launched their missiles the other would have to launch theirs, use them or lose them. The idea that both countries would be destroyed was called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was enough to deter both sides. I would recommend a visit to the Titan Missile Museum to get a better understanding of the Cold War.
North of Tucson is Biosphere 2. It was constructed between 1987 and 1991 to demonstrate the viability of  closed ecological systems to support human exploration of other planets. It was built as a private venture at a cost of over $150,000,000. Left is the area with five biomes, center is the crew living quarters, and right is one of two lung domes that controlled changing interior air pressure caused by the changes in outside temperatures. 
In 1991 a two year experiment began with a crew of eight in the sealed structure that was built to prevent any exchange of air or food supplies from outside the building. This is the rain forest. 
While they survived for two years they were only able to produce 83 % of their needed food and had to rely on some stored foods. The ocean, which included a coral reef, where they raised fish and studied the environment. In the background is the mangrove wetlands.    
This environment was to be a fog desert. A second experiment started in 1994 only lasted six months. Both closed environment experiences had problems with food and oxygen supplies and the die-off of plants and animals. At that point the space venture group dissolved and financier Ed Bass hired Steve Bannon (yes that Steve Bannon) to manage the site. This resulted in those taking part in the second experiment ending because Biosphereites feared what he would do. In 1995 the management of Bioshpere 2 was given to Columbia University to conduct climate experiments, but not within the closed environment.    
In 2007 the University of Arizona took over the site and continues to do experiments, the largest being the water cycle in the desert and how climate change will affect it. A foundation run by Ed Bass has given $20,000,000 for research at the facility. This one compares the difference in how much water is used to grow plants with recycled water (right) coming from a fish tank with the fish poop as fertilizer compared to the traditional method, left. 
The tour takes you into the basement to see all the works used to run the original experiments and to control the interior climate for today's experiments.
Nanc entering one of the two lungs where the air pressure was controlled for the inside of the building..
The lung. a sixteen ton metal and rubber assembly, rises as the interior temperature goes up during the day and drops at night as the temperature goes down. This forces more air into the whole building. When the door of the lung was opened to let us out it was like being in a wind tunnel.
The crew quarters had a kitchen, where they all took turns cooking, and a separate apartment with a living room/bedroom that each member decorated to their own taste. 
This Arizona student is doing an experiment on growing food with a minimal amount of water.
A model of a possible future Mars base. The tubes would be used to grow food and the center would contain the labs and living quarters.
While the Biosphere 2 did not meet all its original goals of sustaining a supply of food and oxygen, it was a big first step. If we are going to explore distant planets this is something that will need to be successfully completed. The Biosphere is a very interesting and worthwhile visit if you are in the Tucson area.  
WOW!!!!  Things sure have to be looking up when you see a double rainbow. It was a full one but we were to close to get the whole thing.
Sharon and John (front) were spending a few days in Tucson so we got together for dinner. Friends of theirs, Steve and Mona Liza (middle) joined us. We had a great meal and a couple beers while sharing travel stories. We loved hearing about their recent experience going into Mexico with their rigs. It is always fun seeing friends on the road. Here is a link to John and Sharon's blog.  Here is a link to Steve and Mona Liza's blog.
On Saturday we drove to Benson to see Don and Sharon. Don cooked some wonderful salmon. We met them on the road and last saw them at Betty's in 2013. Don has been on the road for 23 years. Since we last saw them he has had some major health issues and now that he is doing much better they were able to take their first RV trip in over two years this winter.
We had a great meal and spent several hours getting caught up with all that has been going on in each of our lives. We see many friends on the road and it is great when we can get together one on one to swap stories and get to know each other a little better. We are looking forward to seeing them again at the Escapade later this month. You can follow their travels on their Gypsy and the Mariner blog.


Doing It On the Road(Part II) said...

A post filled with fear and hope. Unfortunately I don''t think several of the current world leaders understand the MAD doctrine.

Jan Mains said...

You might enjoy the copper mine tour and the Whipple Observatory too.

lowestravels.com said...

It was great meeting you and Nancy, So when is our next happy hour?
- Monaliza

heyduke50 said...

yes always fun to reconnect on the road...