A Minuteman 3 missile became the year’s first launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base when it blasted out of a silo early today, about two hours after more than a dozen people were arrested during a protest against nuclear weapons.
The unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile launched at 2:46 a.m. from an underground silo on North Base. Liftoff occurred about 45 minutes later than planned due to unfavorable weather at Vandenberg, Air Force officials said.
Despite the early hour launch, about 70 activists gathered in front of Vandenberg’s main gate to protest nuclear weapons and testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Just before 1 a.m., approximately 14 protesters left the grassy area in front of the Vandenberg sign and began walking in the street toward the main gate, where they were met by security forces personnel who handcuffed the activists.
Those arrested included Daniel Ellsberg, former nuclear strategist and the man responsible for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971; and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed while he served in Army in Iraq.
This wasn’t Ellsberg’s first time to be arrested during a protest at Vandenberg. He also was taken into custody during a 1983 action at the base.
The Air Force routinely conducts test launches of ICBMs from Vandenberg to gather data about the weapon system’s accuracy and reliability.
Thick fog shrouded the Minuteman missile’s departure this morning but several airmen shouted with glee as the rumble reached their viewing site at Vandenberg.
Once the weapon blasted off, the Air Force tracked the weapon’s lone re-entry vehicle as it traveled some 4,200 miles to a predetermined target in the central Pacific Ocean.
Air Force Global Strike Command officials later said the test was successful.
“These tests provide us the data necessary to ensure a reliable and effective ICBM force,” said Col. David W. Lair, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “These test launches and our test program bolster the credibility of our strategic deterrent capabilities.”
Today’s test comes seven months after the previous Minuteman launch ended in failure and led to an investigation.
Another Minuteman 3 test is scheduled for early Thursday morning from Vandenberg, Air Force officials have said. In all, five Minuteman 3 tests are planned in 2012 from the base.