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SMELLS LIKE ALERT The Minuteman Takes Flight nose cone d rhea ar wa nucle W78 -12A le Mar n k try vehic ree Should the president ever order a launch, it will come in the form of an Emergency Action Message and appear on the computer screen in the LCC. After both missileers ensure the message is legitimate, together they will turn separate keys to launch an ICBM. The LCC is connected electronically to the vertical silos in which the ICBMs are stored. Buried 80 feet into the ground, each silo is covered with a massive 100-ton concrete-and-steel blast door that is blown violently open amidst a cloud of smoke and fire as the missile takes flight. Once airborne, the 80,000-pound missile enters stages during which parts are dropped to shed excess weight and to accelerate to high velocities 700 miles above the Earth’s surface. Traveling at 15,000 miles per hour, the weapon can reach a target on the other side of the world in about half an hour. ge ird sta th Stages of a Minuteman III launch e d stag secon Earth’s atmosphere e tag first s 5 The warhead— often a Los Alamos– designed W78 inside a Mark-12A reentry vehicle—is released. 4 The third-stage engine fires and falls away at about 180 seconds. Only the vessel carrying the reentry vehicle remains. 3 By 120 seconds, the missile reaches an altitude of 300,000 feet. The second stage falls off, and the third-stage motor ignites. 6 The reentry vehicle containing the warhead reenters the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed. 2 In 60 seconds, the missile reaches an altitude of 100,000 feet. The first stage falls away and the second-stage motor ignites. 1 Armed with a nuclear warhead inside its reentry vehicle, an ICBM launches from its silo toward a predetermined target. 24 Los Alamos National Laboratory