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Launching Missiles

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.