Titan Missile Museum

If you’ve spent much time in Arizona, you probably know that what’s under the ground is often as exciting as what’s on the surface.

Canyons across the state provide a fascinating cross-section of the earth’s history as one geological epoch has given way to the next. Erosion and plate tectonics, though, aren’t the only forces at work in Arizona. Just a short, scenic drive south from Marana is a cavernous hole in the ground that you won’t want to miss.  The Titan Missile Museum offers a glimpse into the Cold War national defense apparatus, complete with a 10-story missile buried in an underground silo.

titan missile museum

The Context

Starting in the 1960s, the United States and the USSR began to build up their nuclear arsenals. As the threat of nuclear war loomed, the U.S. adopted a strategy of “Peace Through Deterrence.”  This approach meant that the U.S. would not launch a pre-emptive attack, but if attacked by a foreign power with nuclear weapons, would respond in kind, ensuring “mutually assured destruction.”  Fortunately for all, this unthinkable outcome never came to pass, but a trip to the Titan Missile Museum will leave little doubt in anyone’s mind: if attacked, the U.S. was ready.

The Titan Missile Museum today highlights the headquarters of an extensive program that includes sites across southern Arizona, as well as in Kansas and Arkansas.  More than fifty silos in these three locations housed Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, which could reach their specific destination (accurate to within one mile) thousands of miles away within 35 minutes. 

The Missiles

Visitors to the Titan Missile Museum will enjoy a special treat.  The docents all possess a wealth of knowledge about this location.  Some of them even served in the Air Force and were stationed at this location during their deployment.  When you take their tour, you will learn all about your surroundings from a primary source. 

During the tour, the docents like to throw around a lot of numbers, and a few will really stick with you.  One of these is the amount of thrust that launches these missiles toward their destinations.  The engines on these weapons are equivalent to two 747s running at full throttle. 

A second terrifying measurement is the power concentrated in the bomb itself.  Each weapon contained 9 million tons of TNT.  That made each of these bombs 650 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  In its wake, each of the Titan Missiles would leave behind a crater up to ¾ of a mile wide and 300 feet deep.

The Space

Just as fascinating as the weapons themselves is the space occupied by the crew who managed this site.  For 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, a crew of four would wait at the ready for the moment the President might give the order to launch.  In a small control room buried under the hot desert sand, the crew would wait.  And wait.  And wait.  The order never came.

missile museum AZ

In the words of one former crewmember, “Our life was hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror.” 

What’s especially remarkable about this complex is its structural ingenuity.  Since the philosophy of peace through deterrence meant that the U.S. would only retaliate, this site was built to withstand the nearby blast of a nuclear weapon.  The control room itself is suspended by massive springs so that it would remain stable as the earth shook.  A series of blast doors separates the crew from the outside world, each set of doors thicker than the last.  The most resilient of these passages provides access through eight feet of solid concrete.


A tour of the Titan Missile Museum offers a meaningful look back to a different era, a time when schoolchildren ducked under their desks for bomb drills and many homeowners constructed bomb shelters under their homes.  While the images conjured up by the Titan Missile Museum may feel very old, this era is not so far past.  More than anything, then, this museum speaks to how quickly our world can change. Today, we do not fear the imminent, catastrophic destruction of a nuclear weapon, as we did during the Cold War.  The Titan Missile Museum therefore provides an important memorial to this era and the complicated moral questions it posed.  It’s unlike any other museum in the world, and it’s one of many attractions that make Southern Arizona so special.  Discover History when you Discover Marana.

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Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

The Titan Missile Museum is a former operational Titan II missile launch complex and a one-of-a kind museum that gives visitors a…