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Launching Missiles

Constant training and drills ensure that each crewman or “missileer” knows what to do in any conceivable situation. A “personnel reliability program” examines details of each crewmember’s personal life to make sure they are mentally fit to carry out the great responsibility of controlling nuclear weapons. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Constant training and drills ensure that each crewman or “missileer” knows what to do in any conceivable situation. A “personnel reliability program” examines details of each crewmember’s personal life to make sure they are mentally fit to carry out the great responsibility of controlling nuclear weapons. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Minuteman III facilities feature updated electronics like these pictured in 1996 at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Minuteman III facilities feature updated electronics like these pictured in 1996 at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Minuteman II test launch. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Minuteman II test launch. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This chain of events depicts delivery of a single warhead in a ballistic, or free-falling, trajectory.( Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Gregory S. Macik.)

This chain of events depicts delivery of a single warhead in a ballistic, or free-falling, trajectory.( Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Gregory S. Macik.)

Only the President of the United States can authorize a strategic missile launch. In the Minuteman II system, the launch sequence took less than five minutes. This is what would have happened: 

1. The U.S. receives warning of an attack from early-warning satellites or ground radars. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) alerts the president. The president executes an appropriate response. 

2. The combat crew in the Launch Control Center hears an alarm, then receives a coded message over the loudspeakers giving the command to launch. They verify that the message is real, then unlock a small red steel "Emergency War Order" safe above the deputy commander's panel. In the trainer on display, this safe is above the crewman holding the telephone. Inside the box are two launch keys. 

3. The crewmen strap into their chairs in case of a nuclear strike on the launch facility. They insert the keys into their consoles to begin the final countdown. As the commander calls out codes to verify the launch message, the deputy commander repeats them. Finally, the crewmen turn their keys simultaneously. No single person can turn both keys because they are 12 feet apart. Outside the Minuteman facility, another authority -- either another launch control facility or an airborne command center -- must concur in order for the launch to proceed. 

4. If the launch is approved, a "LAUNCH IN PROCESS" display lights up. Explosive gas generators open all ten massive concrete doors above the silos, and ten Minuteman II missiles lift off. A "MISSILE AWAY" indicator lights up for each Minuteman launched. The missiles will reach their targets on the other side of the world in 30 minutes. 

Click here to return to the Minuteman II Mission Procedures Trainer Overview.


Mask Policy:
In accordance with the updated guidance released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense (DoD) and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force will require all visitors to wear face masks indoors effective July 30, 2021 until further notice.

Visitors ages three and up will be required to wear masks while indoors at the museum. This policy applies to all visitors, staff and volunteers regardless of vaccination status. Visitors may wear their own masks or a free paper mask will be provided. Cloth masks will also be available for purchase in the Museum Store.
Additional information available here.

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