During the Cold War the US and the Soviet Union
had to build underground silos to house nuclear missiles that could be launched
at a few minutes notice. Now, one of the technical challenges they had
to overcome that you might not think of is acoustics. Launching a missile in such a confined silo generates a loud sound, so loud that it would’ve
shaken apart the missiles before they could even launch. So the walls of the inside of the silo had to be covered in acoustically absorbent tiles, very similar to those in the world’s quietest room. But after all of the technical challenges were sorted, what I wanted to know was
‘how could they have launched these missiles very quickly, if needed, but also never by accident?’ So I visited one of these Titan missile silos
in the Arizona desert to find out exactly what it would have taken
to launch a nuclear missile. Well, Derek this is level 2 of the silo, we are
down some 10 meters below the surface now. And this… is the launch duct. — Wow.
— And that is Titan II. The largest and most powerful missile weapons system
ever deployed by the United States. And what kind of bomb is in there? That is a thermonuclear bomb. It is a 9 megaton weapon. Compared to Hiroshima? Oh, call it 650 times. An enormously powerful weapon. And what was the idea with it? The idea behind Titan II was to instill
enough fear in the mind of the enemy, to cause them to think twice about launching an attack against us. Knowing that 10 meters below the desert in our fortified concrete bunker, we could ride out their first strike, and live to retaliate,
if we’re forced to do that, the consequences for the enemy
would be so unspeakably horrible that maybe they would prefer not to
get into it with us in the first place. That’s the essence of deterrence. This missile is no longer active,
but the launch system is preserved. And I wanted an insight into how it felt
to control this incredible power. Can we go launch one? I thought you’d never ask! There were 54 of these silos, each one
staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Ready to launch their missiles on the exclusive order of
the President of the United States. Alright then, have a seat here Commander. Thank you. So, this is the control center, this is where
the crew waited to launch the missile. And how do we know when we need to launch? [Speaker beeping] On radio: ‘Alpha, 2, 3, Charlie, Hotel, Victor’
(A23CHV) So, we’re going to write down every letter and number
that we hear in a form in this notebook. I’m going to write it down in this notebook. We’ll compare each other’s work.
If we agree that we’ve copied the message correctly, then we have what’s called a ‘valid message,’ and authorization to take our lock off the big red safe. You know your combination, I know mine,
we don’t know each other, so we both have to agree to get inside. Inside we find authenticator cards. I’ll give those to you. In the secret message, they sent us
a seven-character code word. We’re going to look at the first two letters of
the code word, we’re going to find the authenticator that has those first two letters. If the card here matches the code word they sent us,
then this is a legitimate order to go. That gives us permission to put in our launch keys.
I’ve already put them in for us. Key right here for you, commander.
And for me there’s a key right over here. The keys are far enough apart that not even
a long-armed guy like me can reach them both. The keys must be turned within 2 seconds of each other and held, they’re spring loaded, so held for 5 seconds to start the launch. That guarantees that two people
will be required to do it. You just can’t run back and forth and do it yourself. And last but not least, we need
the secret unlock code for the missle. Six little wheels. Each little wheel
has 16 letters of the alphabet. Nominally 17 million combinations. Only one will operate the missile. This is the fail safe that prevents an unauthorized
or accidental launch of the missle. So once we have all those things:
authentication, keys, code, we’re good to go. — All set?
— Let’s do it. Give me a countdown, “3-2-1 Turn keys”,
we’ll send this thing on it’s way. After you comander. 3… 2… 1… Turn keys. And hold. Okay, you may release. That’s all there is to it. The green light turns on. Its says “Launch enable”. For all intents and purposes,
that should say “Welcome to World War III” Because that’s pretty much what it boils down to. When you turn the key you are committed.
There is no “Oops” switch anywhere. When the batteries come to full power,
the missile will transfer to internal power, meaning that it is fully independent. About that same time, the silo door starts to slide open. It will slide through security radar beams
and set off the alarm. That gives us “Silo Soft”. “Guidance Go” means the internal guidance computer
has full control of the mission. In a few seconds we’ll have main engine start. From engine start we will build up thrust. Pump the hold down bolts. And off you go. Into the wild we know. So that’s it? We just basically just ended life on Earth. As you know it. In these silos, the Titan missiles
had a terrifying purpose. But they were also put to much better uses,
minus their war-head of course. For example, the Voyager spacecraft was launched
into space atop a Titan III missile. And Neil Armstrong took his first
flight into space atop a Titan II. The exact same missile that would have delivered
nuclear warheads to the Soviet Union. So the Cold War didn’t only bring us this fear
and potential of mutually assured destruction, it also made space exploration possible. Now I want to say thank you to everyone for writing in
to request that this documentary be played in your area. Thanks to you, we’ve managed to get it broadcast
in Norway, Sweden and the Middle East. And details are in the description, so check it out. For everyone else, the documentray will be
available online via our broadcasters though there may be some geo-blocking restrictions. But I’m pretty confident that anyone who wants to see
the documentary will be able to via those means. So I hope you watch it, I hope you enjoy it.
It premiers in just a few days in the US. That’s July 28th:
10pm Eastern, 9 Central. For more details check out links in the description. I hope you check it out and I really hope you enjoy it. I appreciate so much your support. It means everything to me.
So again, thanks for watching.