Base Vandenberg CA: missile launch site

Vandenberg Space Force Base entered the space age on December 16, 1958, with the launch of a Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile.

Nearly two months later, the base near Lompoc launched the world’s first polar-orbiting satellite.

Since then, Vandenberg has hosted over 1,980 launches.

Originally known as Camp Cooke during World War II, the installation changed its name from Vandenberg Air Force Base to Vandenberg Space Force Base in May 2021.

The name is apt given its popularity as a launch point.

Because the California coast takes a sharp turn east at Vandenberg, south of Point Conception, it allows a rocket to be launched from an isolated area over an uninhabited expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

If things go wrong, the world’s largest ocean absorbs the impact.

Vandenberg was the first place in the United States where intercontinental ballistic missiles were based. The site is also used to test missiles which are the platform for nuclear warheads.

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An Air Force Global Strike Command unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during a functional test at 11:49 p.m. Pacific Time Feb. 23, 2021, at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Staff Sgt. Brittany FR Murphy United States Air Force

All of this made the base a popular destination for politicians such as President John F. Kennedy, who witnessed a missile launch there in 1962.

US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Vandenberg on April 18.

On February 29, 1960, the Telegram-Tribune published a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into Vandenberg written by the town’s editor, John Sarber.

Records systems have since changed since the 1960s and photos from this trip no longer exist, so others are used here.

Sarber would cover JFK’s tour of the base two years later.

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From left, President John F. Kennedy, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and General Thomas Powers watch an Atlas rocket lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on March 23, 1962. US Airforce photo 1369th place in the photo

Journalists visit the underground maze of the missile base

“And they won’t even let me take a picture of my girlfriend in front of the base exchange!” exclaimed an amazed young airman at Vandenberg Air Force Base last week.

His open-mouthed comment was made with admiration as reporters and photographers entered the previously off-limits of the nation’s only combat-ready operational missile base, about 60 miles south of San Luis Obispo.

It is at Vandenberg AFB that America is ready to “fire in anger” and launch a shot that could start World War II or retaliate if an enemy fires first.

Nothing was forbidden in the eyes of the journalists who toured the fantastic installation for a day, but an embargo was imposed on all materials until today.

If the all-important and impressive red telephone rang in a Vandenberg blockhouse to signal an angry launch, a crew of just four men would send an Atlas ICBM on its fearsome course, heading for a predetermined target.

And a tiny sealed capsule worn around the neck of a launch control officer contains a code that would indicate if the information given on the red phone is correct, a guarantee against any war by mistake.

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An undated sequence of photos of an Atlas missile launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base US Air Force Case

The blockhouse that controls the complex of three operational Atlas missiles is the base’s most heavily guarded spot, and signs warn of vicious guard dogs on patrol.

The Atlas complex bears the Air Force’s superior strategic stamp, “Category 1”, which signifies that it is combat ready and kept on a war footing.

Outside the blockhouse, deployed towards the Pacific Ocean, are the gantry cranes that serve the Atlas.

Two of the missiles are cradled in their support gantries, while a third stands alert and ready to go, with the gantry pulled back on its steel rails.

The vertical position in which these missiles are held in the original Vandenberg locations is being changed to more protected and concealed underground systems.

The Atlas, Thor and Titan missiles that form the Strategic Air Command arsenal at Vandenberg are served from various types of complexes, most of which are unfinished.

The new systems hold the missiles in a horizontal position under a hangar-like cover that quickly rolls back its roof at the push of a button, with the bird then lifted vertically into firing position by a hydraulic winch to which the missile is “coupled.” “. .”

Another complex provides a blockhouse and control center, as well as a fuel system, underground, while the missile platform remains above ground.

But the most astonishing complex is the new Titan site, monumental holes in the ground linked together by a series of tunnels laid out like an underground. The tunnels span 820 feet and are 10 feet in diameter.

There are five of these silos that extend 165 feet into the earth and each has a surface diameter of 60 feet.

These concrete-lined silos would each accommodate a 15-storey building.

There will be two full Titan complexes when the Army Corps of Engineers, which is leading construction, hands the site over to the Air Force.

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SPACE AGE ARSENAL… This family of pioneering Atlas space vehicles, built by Convair, will be on display at the “open house” for the public at Vandenberg AFB. Here, from left to right, the Atlas-Agena Atlas Able, Atlas D-ICBM, Atlas-Mercury and Atlas Centaur models. The base announced an open house in an article published on September 27, 1960. Photo Convair Case

Workers using extremely heavy equipment are installing two gates of 250 tons each, which will hinge to cover the “barrel” of the underground launch silo.

This will conceal the complex which will withstand anything but a direct atomic hit.

On a surface platform in another location, the site is teeming with engineers and scientists preparing the Discoverer XI for an expected launch soon.

The Agena nose cone is undergoing final testing, and it is programmed for polar orbit. It will be propelled into space by a Thor.

It was explained that it takes 15 to 19 minutes to complete the final count of all systems in a missile before liftoff.

The sprawling Vandenberg Air Force Base covers 64,000 acres along the coast in northern Santa Barbara County.

The operation of SAC is supported by the adjacent US Navy Arguello Port which maintains instrumentation for tracking and telemetry devices.

But behind all this fantastic aura of this scientific world, there still remains the ingenuity always reflected by the American soldier or airman.

At one site in Atlas, an airman kept his orange juice and ice cream cool on frosty pipes pumping liquid oxygen to a missile.

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David Middlecamp is a photojournalist and third-generation Cal Poly graduate who has covered the Central Coast region since the 1980s. A career that began developing and printing black-and-white film now includes a drone pilot’s license FAA certified. He also writes the historical column “Photos from the vault”.

Amanda J. Marsh