This missile base is located just northwest of the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to our tour guide this is the only active site in the United States (we got to keep one and the Russians got to keep one). The Nike program (pronounced like the sneaker: NIKE-ee) was started in 1954 and at it’s peak there were more than 300 missile sites scattered around the outer boundries of the country, mainly on the west coast and in Alaska. I remember that as a kid I saw a Nike Missile Base along Lake Michigan in Chicago (we never knew if the Russians would launch an attack over the North Pole and approach the US over Canada). There were bases near major US cities and military installations.
The Nike missile was a ground-to-air anti-aircraft tool which carried a small nuclear payload. Using 1950’s and 60’s technology (long before onboard computer guidance systems were developed) only one missile could be launched from a particular base at a time and it was guided by using two radar systems – one to track the enemy aircraft and one for the missile. A human would then use radio commands to “steer” the missile to it’s target. The goal wasn’t to strike it, but merely get close enough so the concussion of the small nuclear blast would damage or destroy it. The Nike’s were the last line of defense in case an enemy aircraft got past other detection systems and evaded our aircraft. No Nike missile was ever fired in anger.
These are the two radar antennas:
The missiles here could be launched and controlled from one of four places: one of the white trailers to the left in the next photo, the Master Control Center located atop the mountain in the background, another white trailer located elsewhere on the property, or the underground portion of the base (which you’ll see shortly).
After a short walk our tour guide took us underground to see the missiles (I believe there were 6 of them).
Our guide had a female volunteer from the tour group push one of the missiles (which are mounted on rails) to the side. I forget how much he said it weighed but it was substantial and she could easily push it sideways.
One by one these missiles could be moved to an elevator where they were lifted above ground (which only took about a minute – I shot video but can’t post it on the blog). Once they raised one of the missiles above ground we went back upstairs:
The front of the missile would then be raised on an angle and it would be launched. You can probably find video of test launches on YouTube.