September 15, 1959: Silo Launch of ICBM

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  • USAF

The first silo launch of a tethered, full-scale Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile took place at the Rocket Engine Test Station on Leuhman Ridge. The test missile was fitted with dummy second and third stages, and carried only a few second’s fuel in the first stage. The purpose of the test was to determine if a solid-fueled Intercontinental Ballistic Missile could be launched from within a missile silo.

This test showed that the Minuteman could be fired directly from an underground silo, prompting the Air Force to fast-track the program in the hopes of having the first Minuteman I on duty by 1962. The production of the first operational Minuteman I force was approved in March 1960 and consisted of 150 missiles assigned to a single missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The previous month at Cape Canaveral, the first full test of a Minuteman I proved successful—the missile deposited its warhead 4,600 miles from the launch site.  During these tests the missiles did not employ armed atomic warheads. TIME magazine reported that an awed observer murmured "Brother, there goes the missile gap" and described the successful test flight as follows, "Even for sophisticated missile watchers, the men who have marked the flight of so many of Cape Canaveral's great fire-breathing birds, last week's show was a dazzling spectacle. The blast-off was swift and sure; there was none of that heart stopping hover of other tests when liquid-fueled monsters seemed to balance in uncertain equilibrium before they picked up the momentum of flight."

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