Titan Missile Museum: Blast Doors

Hey everybody, this is Chuck, the museum historian,
and today I want to take a deep dive into the blast doors for you. You see them
on the tours, but we don’t talk much about them except, you know, how much they weigh and all that kind of stuff. But, there’s a lot to the blast door system
that’s kind of interesting. I thought maybe it’d be kind of cool to talk about today.
So let’s do that. We have four blast doors on the complex, and those four
doors are numbered 6, 7, 8, and 9. And the reason for that took us a
little while to figure out. So if you just, if you just think of these as doors,
(so not blast doors, just doors), and then you think of the main gate topside as
being door 1, then you can count doors all the way down to here, so that this ends
up being door 6. That’s all there is to it. Come on in the blast lock here. Now, on the tours we tell you that only one door of
a pair of these doors can be open at a time. So, for example, when the crew comes
on board in the morning, they open door 6, they find door 7 closed and locked.
Before they can open door 7, they have to close door 6 behind them. That
way, if a bomb goes off and somebody’s coming or going, blasts can never
get any further than door 7. Everything inside is safe.
The blast wave could never fully penetrate the complex. We have two more
doors over here, doors 8 and 9. Take a look. This is door 8, it goes into the Control Center. Door 9 goes down to the silo. And these work in the same way — only one of a pair can
be open at a time. So doors 6 and 7, that we just saw, those are designed to protect
you from a nuclear blast. These two doors are designed to protect you
from your own missile. So if the missile exploded, like it did in Little Rock, Arkansas, the fireball would not get into the Control Center. And that proved to be very effective. The doors actually did do just that. So one of the things we sometimes get asked are, “What happens if
the doors malfunction and they won’t open?” Well, we thought of that and they used
what’s called a hand pump. And we have one right here. This is a hand pump. The hoses for
this are missing — there should be some hoses that are wrapped up a little
alongside here — but you can take those hoses, and connect them to these little
boxes, right here, here and here. And when you do that, then you can use the pump and
just pump it like this, and pump the doors open it by hand. And that, and
there’s one of these hand pumps in stations, you know, at all the doors. We don’t
have them all any more, but we do have a couple of them and that’s how they work. And there’s a little green box like this for each of the blast doors. All right, come on back out here. One other than that can happen is, and this is kind of a dirty little secret they we don’t really tell you on the tours. That it is possible to open
all the blast doors at once, even though we tell you that’s not possible,
it really is. And there are circumstances under which you would want to do that. For
example, if you’re doing a propellant upload or download, because you’re loading or
unloading propellant for a missile, and there’s there is the possibility of a fire, or an
explosion, or some other calamity down here, then you would want to be able to
get out of here in a hurry. And so under those circumstances, they actually do
open all the doors at once, and I’ll show you how that works. Come right over here.
This is something else you don’t see on the tour, because we
can’t move the door that far. But I’ve arranged today so we can actually move
the door. This is the hydraulic mechanism that actually operates the locking pins
to the door. And so once you get past blast door 6, the main door, you can open
all the doors just by manually pressing down on the valves, like that, and all the doors
will go open. Incidentally, sometime in the ’70s, somebody figured that out.
It occurred to someone that, “Wait a minute! If a bad guy could sort of bring
their own hand pump with them, and pump the door 6 open, then they’re just,
they’re in, to the complex. There’s nothing you can do to stop them.” And so they
thought, “Wait a minute, that’s not such a great idea,” and so what they did
to counteract that, is they installed to what amounts to a huge
night latch. And here it is. So usually what happens at 5:00 or, you
know, or whenever the maintenance people go home for the day, you take this big hook,
and you put it in this little latch, right here. And you crank it down, and then blast door
7 cannot be opened under any circumstances. So, they thought about that. Another
thing that can happen… by the way, these are the locking pins, right here.
There are four them on each door. And they’re gigantic pins that are
pumped out and going into little divots on the ends of the door, right here. And, if the doors are open for an extended period of time, like they might be during a propellant loading operation, the pins have a tendency to drift out, kind of on their own. And if you’re not paying
attention to that, and you decide you’re going to close the doors, the
doors will crash into the pins. And that’s why all of our doors have these
little divots in them, right here, from when that actually happened. Maintenance guys
just hate it when that happens, because it compromises the seals on the doors.
The other thing they don’t like, maintenance guys don’t like, is they don’t want
you to slam the door. Because even if the pins are okay, if you slam the door,
it rings like a bell. And there’s a little neoprene seal that runs all the way
around here, and you’re in danger of of deforming that seal to the point where
it just won’t seal anymore. So, what happens if you find
yourself trapped in this little room without a hand pump, for example, and the
hydraulic system has malfunctioned, and you’re just stuck in here. Well, there’s
actually, I’ve been in a couple sites that have been excavated. In fact, you can
see there’s four little holes, right here. There used to be a little sign, right
here (someday we’ll get a replica made), and it was a sign with emergency
instructions on there about what to do if you find yourself stuck in here. And
instruction number 1 was, remain calm. And down the list it says, you know,
if you need more air to breathe, you can remove these little wing nuts, right here.
And you can put your mouth up to this little hole. And it goes all the way
through the door and you can suck air in from the outside. Now, I don’t know about you, but I
would not want to be doing that for very long before I got rescued out of here. So that’s what
these little, these are called breather holes, strangely enough. And you can also use
the breather holes, and this was, they did this at Rock, Kansas. I think
they did in the Arkansas accident as well. They have what’s called a portable vapor
detector. It’s got a long pole, that’s the sensor pole on this thing. And they
could push the pole… the little sensor… through there and read… to detect if there were
toxic vapors on the other side of the door. So that’s another reason that you
might want to use these at some point. What else? Oh, you know something? Let’s talk about how strong the doors are. This is a big deal. So when you take a tour, the guides will
tell you, and this is true, that the doors will stand off at overpressure of a
thousand pounds per square inch [~6,894.7 kPa]. So, you don’t need to know anything
about pounds per square inch. You just need a little perspective.
So the doors will stand off a thousand pounds per square inch. Your home, your
stick-built home, would be entirely flattened at about 5 pounds per square
inch [~34.5 kPa]. So, at a thousand psi, we are pretty secure down here. Now, a lot of
the guides will say, ” Well, this is like the damage that would be inflicted on
your home in a tornado or a hurricane.” And I have a lot of problems with that
analogy, because high winds are not the same as a shockwave. And in a nuclear
detonation, it’s not high winds we’re talking about. It’s a shockwave. And a
shockwave, how a shockwave forms, is that when a nuclear bomb explodes (and
this happens in a matter of microseconds), you get this immense fireball. And the
fireball expands so rapidly, it pushes air out ahead of it. And that air becomes
so highly compressed that it behaves like a solid object. So you have this
essentially solid wall of air zooming across the landscape. Initially at
supersonic speed, but at distance it slows way down, of course.
But it’s no less solid at that point. So you have this solid wall of air
(it looks like a solid object) sweeping over the landscape, literally plowing
away everything in its path, like some high-speed bulldozer. This is not high
winds we’re talking about. This is a shockwave. And 5 psi (5 pounds
square inch), that may not sound like very much, but if you were struck,
if you were topside and you were struck by a 5 psi shockwave,
that is an event you would never forget. You might possibly be deafened from
that, because the shockwave would blow out your eardrums. You could suffer
lung damage, because the shockwave could theoretically explode your lungs,
give you a collapsed lung, maybe. You would certainly be thrown, or you know,
pushed a considerable distance by the shockwave, even probably end up breaking
bones. So this is a, this would be a very unpleasant experience. So even though 5 psi
doesn’t sound like much, it is a real significant event. The blast valves in
the Control Center and the silo were designed to close at 2 pounds per
square inch. Even that is going to break windows everywhere. So this
is a big deal. So, think of it this way, with respect to high winds in a shockwave that you could stand up in a 30 mile-per-hour [~48 km per hour] wind. But you cannot stand up in front of the 30 mile-per-hour bus. And that’s the difference
between high winds and a shockwave. So that’s why I don’t really
like this tornado/hurricane analogy. Because it doesn’t really get to the
heart of what’s going on, and what the the blast doors are really designed to
protect against, is an event something like that. So, there you go. More than you ever
wanted you know about the blast doors and the overpressure system. So, thanks for watching.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *