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Nike Missile Launch Console

From 1954 until 1974, many American cities were ringed by a decentralized network of guided missiles intended to destroy incoming enemy aircraft and ICBMs. Named for the Greek goddess of victory, Nike missiles were equipped with either high explosive or "small" nuclear warheads (with up to a 40 kiloton yield). At the peak of the program there were over 200 Nike "batteries" in the Continental US (plus over a hundred more protecting strategic locations outside the US). Advances in ICBM technology, coupled with the ABM treaty, eventually put an end to the domestic Nike program, with most of the sites de-commissioned and quickly consumed by suburban sprawl. A few sites have been preserved, however, and I recently visited "SF88L" in Ft. Barry, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in the Marin headlands. Click on the thumbnails for larger versions of the photos.

 

SF88L is now under the control of the National Park Service (so don't mess with them), and, thanks to a team of volunteers (many of whom are Nike veterans), is open for guided tours for a few hours each month (as of this writing, the first Sunday of the month, 12:30-3:30pm, but check the web sites below before heading out). See www.nikemissile.net/, www.nikemissile.org/, ed-thelen.org/, and www.atomictourist.com/nike.htm for details on the site and the history of the Nike program generally. Considering its proximity to San Francisco the area is surprisingly remote and rural. (To get there from the highway you go through a neat little single lane tunnel that alternates direction every five minutes.)

 

The site is a must-see for the Bay-area hacker tourist -- a visit richly repays the advance planning needed to accomodate its somewhat out-of-the-way location and limited schedule. It is remarkably well-preserved, with at least four full, JATO-equipped Nike missiles (un-fueled and sans warheads, we're repeatedly assured), two underground "magazines" with launch platforms, launch and radar control trailers, a radar station (originally a few miles away, line of site), and display cases with assorted artifacts.

 

See www.crypto.com/photos/misc/sf88l/ for more.

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Taken on July 3, 2005