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Inquiry Question

Historical Context

Map 2




Table of

Locating the Site

Map 1: Minuteman Missile fields in the United States.[Map 1] with link to larger version of map.
(Library of Congress)

The shaded areas on Map 1 show the location of the missile silos in the fields.

Minuteman Missiles were deployed across the Central and Northern Great Plains region beginning in 1961. Minuteman Missiles were America's first solid-fuel Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). A ballistic missile is one that is launched by a rocket motor which then shuts off when all of the fuel is burned. The rest of the missile's flight is determined by the forces of gravity. These missiles were designed for delivery of nuclear weapons to a target thousands of miles away. By 1965 there were 1,000 Minuteman ICBMs located in six different missile fields. Each missile field covered a vast tract of land up to 15,000 square miles in size in order to keep the individual silos well-dispersed. The military chose the Great Plains area to deploy these missiles for several reasons. The first Minuteman Missiles were deployed in the northern part of the country because their range was limited to 4,300 miles. The missile had to be launched over the North Pole in order to strike targets in the central Soviet Union. Also, the Great Plains was the furthest area from both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. If missiles had been sited in states adjacent to the ocean, they could have been destroyed by Soviet submarine launched ballistic missiles in a matter of minutes or even seconds. Other stated reasons for missile field locations included closeness to existing Air Force bases for logistical support, cost effectiveness, and low population density in the Great Plains possibly limiting casualties in a nuclear war.

Questions for Map 1

1. Locate the six Air Force bases (AFB) with missile fields and list them by state. Why were the missile fields situated near these bases?

2. Why were missile fields located in the middle of the United States? Why were they not located closer to the Atlantic or Pacific coasts of the United States?

3. Based on the reasons listed above did the Great Plains seem like the best place to deploy missiles? Why or why not? Can you suggest a better area in the United States to locate them? If so, what is your reasoning?

* The map on this screen has a resolution of 72 dots per inch (dpi), and therefore will print poorly. You can obtain a larger version of Map 1, but be aware that the file may take as much as 30 seconds to load with a 28.8K modem.



Comments or Questions

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