Later it was a pivotal part of America’s race to space.
Now, a fully assembled Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile is nearly ready for public viewing at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville.
The new building will be devoted entirely to spacecraft and education and is scheduled to open on June 6. Museum Director of Restoration Colin Powers said the new space facility will rival any in the country.
“We’ve had this missile for about two and a half years,” Powers said. “This is a very important piece in our collection. There is no other exhibit like it because we do have all the original artifacts.
“The Titan II missile was a mainstay deterrent for the Russians during the entire Cold War era because it was such a reliable missile,” Powers added.
The Titan II program was originally put into service in 1963 and retired in 1987 as part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The treaty called for all missile silos and launch locations to be made useless. Most Titan II missile silo whereabouts remain unknown. However, several known sites are used as private museums and sometimes offered for sale on sites such as eBay.
There are currently five decommissioned Titan II missiles on display in the world.
From the vantage point of those driving by on Highway 18, the Titan II looms large through the highest point of the tall glass windows. However, to fully appreciate the magnitude of the weapon, one requires a closer look.
At 114 feet tall, nearly five stories, contractors had to dig a 30-foot deep hole in the museum’s floor to make it fit. Curators decided to take the exhibit one step further by taking a trip to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California to see and photograph an actual Titan II missile silo.
These pictures were brought back to recreate the feel of the launch site from the bottom up.
“We really wanted to make this exhibit very authentic,” Powers said. “It’s designed to replicate an above-ground facility rather than a silo. It’s just very impressive standing up.”
Visitors can walk down the steel staircase and run their hands along the rough, imperfect concrete walls. Curators used the actual designs for the jelly-jar lights and even borrowed portions of an actual missile launch facility, including telephones, for authenticity.
From the bottom, the two engines’ titanium and steel parts glimmer, and tubes for electrical systems, fuel and other necessities move throughout the engine like tightly coiled snakes.
Looking toward the top, the shining steel cylinder towers above the cone on top, which was originally designed to carry a nine-megaton nuclear bomb but eventually carried satellites into orbit.
While many visitors may not be old enough to understand the role of a missile such as this during the Cold War, trained volunteers will guide visitors through actual 3-inch-thick steel blast doors into a control room filled with computers used in the early 1960s through its retirement in 1987.
Kids and adults can also learn about the Titan II’s history through interactive exhibits and even simulate the launch of the missile.
In addition to the launch displays, the missile’s stage-two rocket will be displayed with a cutaway of a nose cone designed specifically for a nuclear warhead.
While the Titan II is most famous for its use as a weapon of war, it also played a major role in America’s race for space. It was used during the Gemini space program between 1964 and 1966, which preceded the Apollo space missions. It also carried military, weather and NASA satellites into orbit.
Creating the display wasn’t easy for Rick Jenkins, a supervisor with Hoffman Construction. He said the area’s water table combined with the need to make the mock launch facility realistic was one of his biggest challenges on any project.
“Anytime you dig a deep hole, safety is paramount,” he said. Track hoes in the bottom of the pit would lift dirt to another track hoe, then into a dump truck. A system to remove water around the site was put in place.
The Titan II will be the centerpiece of the space museum. Other exhibits include a Navy Sea King Helicopter pulling an Apollo spacecraft from simulated seas. There will also be a display of rockets and rocket engines throughout history including some from Russia and Germany.
Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum board member Brian Bauer said the facility is working with NASA to bring one of history’s most visible spacecraft to the museum.
“We’ve designed the facility to accommodate a space shuttle if we are able to acquire one,” he said. “We are talking with officials, astronauts and officials at NASA about putting one on display.”
The shuttles are scheduled for retirement in 2010.
Watching the museum come to life has been a thrill for Jenkins and he hopes people will come and appreciate what he helped create.
“How often do you get to come to work and watch a Titan II go up in your building,” he said. “As we near the finish line and hang up helicopters I’m getting really excited. I think people will appreciate what we’ve done here. It’s very cool and very rewarding.”