Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Tucson Adventure - Day 5 - Afternoon

[Composed: July 10, 2023, High in Tucson: 106°F]

After a fun morning of exploring some of nature's most amazing gifts, it was quite the contrast to visit a site that nearly destroyed it all. Tucson's Titan Missile Museum was exactly the kind of place we wanted to take the kids: it was unique, offered a fascinating view into history and most importantly, was air conditioned.

Classifying the Titan missile Museum as a 'museum' sort of misses the point: for about an hour, you get up close and personal with the actual hardware that stood ready to destroy millions of lives, and most likely be a part of the cascade of events that would have resulted in wiping out humanity. It's humbling, to say the least.

We started off the tour with a short movie and then marched together as a group out to a hatch and down a few flights of stairs into the missile silo. I wasn't sure how the kids were going to react with visting this site, but generally, they all enjoyed it. Once in the missile control room there are two seats: one for the captain and one for an assistant. The person leading the tour selected one kid to be the captain and asked C to be the assistant. C doesn't love being the center of attention, but managed to more than do her part.

We got about a 45 minute description of both the historic context as well as the operation of the missile. If anything, it was too detailed. Ultimately, we simulated a launch with C doing her part to turn the key that "launched" the missile. She couldn't wait to get home and tell her parents that her Uncle and Aunt had given her the job of killing 12 million people on the other side of the globe.

The missile and attached silo really are a marvel of engineering. Built in the 1960's with only the most primitive of computing technology, it's amazing to consider what the engineers of the time pulled off.

The docent talked at length about how mutual assured destruction, if you launch, then we launch, then we all die and how it helped keep the peace for decades. I find it remarkably naive to stake all of humanity on (a) the presence of sane leaders of two nations, and (b) the assumption that there's no non-state actor who would benefit from these two nations destroying each other. And yet, it worked. Or rather, it works. Gulp.

For a secnod, put aside crazy leaders and wacky terrorists. Perhaps the scariest thing we learned during the tour was the role of the butter fly valve. A disk of metal, about the size of a dinner plate, is all that stood between the two main rocket fuel components. That valve had to operate with a 100% success rate. A malfunctioning value would mean that the fuel would mix and the rocket would go. Once the fuel mixed there was no abort procedure. All of humanity rested on these devices not opening prematurely. Again, gulp.

After the museum, we made our way back to the house where the girls took a swim and I dragged the boys out to do some bird watching on one of the nearby trails. Even with the sun going down, it was easily over 100°F. Still, kicking around with D and J was an absolute joy. We snapped pics of birds, collected up rocks and caught a sunset. Shira told me the girls had a great time in the pool, and splitting up the group gave everyone a break from each other.

Tomorrow we hope to explore another neat historic site in the Tucson area; though this one is far less likely to give anyone nightmares.

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