A small group of former aerospace workers met at Vandenberg Air Force Base Friday to note an explosive anniversary.
On Dec. 3, 1960, the team conducted a test of a Titan 1 missile that was scheduled to be a launched a few days later. But the missile being lowered underground via an elevator suddenly exploded, a mishap blamed on a malfunctioning elevator.
On Friday, about 10 former workers — along with family and friends — toured the Space and Missile Heritage Center before visiting what’s left of the site of the explosion.
“It was very different than when I last remember seeing it,” said Santa Maria resident Ron Evey, who also worked for the Titan manufacturer, The Martin Company.
The impact sent debris raining down over a section of north Vandenberg.
“It came up looking like red spaghetti,” said Don Smith, a Vandenberg Village resident and retired aerospace employee.
Smith, who also worked for The Martin Company at the time, was in an underground “blockhouse” or crew capsule about 1,200 feet away.
“We rocked like were on a ship,” Smith said. “We thought the wall was going to come in.”
“We knew something drastic had happened,” Evey added.
Unlike today’s missiles, which are miles away from where crews are stationed, Titan silos were just a tunnel away from their crews.
However, prior to the explosion, officials has installed a second protective door to protect crews from a blast, a measure Evey credits with saving their lives when the Titan mishap occurred.
The debris field was widespread, with pieces even landing on the Vandenberg golf course a few miles away, Smith said. The 200-ton door that cover the silo disintegrated.
“It was just a mess,” Smith added.
The Martin Company built the Titan missile, which in 1960 was the first vehicle with a 5,000-mile range to be placed underground, as a shield from hostile countries.
Martin’s Titan Operational Test Facility team was responsible for integrating and testing the vehicle, which had 90 tons of liquid propellants, and placing it into the underground shelter.
The fire burned for a couple of hours because the explosion blew valves off underground tanks, he added.
Asked what lessons evolved from the incident, Smith responded, “We learned the Titan 2 is a lot better.”
The Titan 2 missile system ultimately replaced the Titan 1 vehicle.
The former workers believe it was important not to overlook the anniversary.
“I think it’s a important piece of history related to an event that occurred during the Cold War,” Evey said.
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