[1983:] On November 19, 1980, Capt. Henry Winsett and 1st Lt. David Mosley were conducting a reliability test of their Titan missile at McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kan. The drill was to be a simulated launching. To fire the liquid-fueled Titan, both missile officers in the command capsule must turn keys simultaneously after receiving the proper 'enabling' code. This unlocks a butterfly valve, allowing two chemicals to combine and ignite, launching the missile. This time, when Winsett and Mosley went into their prescribed drill, strange things started happening. 'We had a green light on the butterfly valve lock control that was not supposed to have a light at all,' Mosley recalled. The two officers turned the keys.
'Instead of giving us the lights that said the test had begun, it said, "Launch OK" and "Launch Sequence Go", which means you're actually in the launch sequence,' Mosley said. In desperation, Winsett shut the missile down - pulled the plug. It was the only way to keep the thing from taking off, he said. The incident was confirmed by both men. Mosley said they couldn't be absolutely certain the missile's guidance system would have steered it to a target in the Soviet Union, which would have invited certain retaliation. But he said that 'it probably would have gone north'. It was a close call that still gives Mosley the tremors. As he puts it, he and Winsett 'saved the world' that day. (Jack Anderson, Parade, 14 August)
[1986:] [At] the 351st Strategic Missile Wing base (Motto: Sentinels of Peace) [in Missouri, USA, in 1972] four 'squadrons' of 200 Minutemen Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles [...] were buried over 16,000 acres of farmland. Each missile could cause destruction equal to that of two Second World Wars, Hiroshima and Nagasaki included. The squadrons were divided into 'flights' of ten, and these were launched by just two men, cocooned in a steel capsule fifty feet underground.
These 'missiliers' would 'press the button'. To fire each missile, according to the official story, each man would take a key, about the size of an ordinary latchkey, from a red metal box and insert it into the control panel in front of him and turn it. After they have turned their keys, another two-man team in another capsule several miles away would follow the same procedure. Each of the four 'missiliers' would then verify the 'launch order'. An order to launch the missiles would be transmitted in code, and the code was said to be changed every hour.
At 8.00 Johnnie Conner, newly promoted to launch commander at the age of twenty-five, kissed his pregnant wife Fran goodbye and left to begin his regular shift of two nights and a day in his capsule. At 8.25 he reached the Operations Building, where he greeted his deputy, Lieutenant Tim Hough, and they collected two locks which they would fit to the red box in their capsule. Inside the box, in a plastic envelope, were the two launch keys and coded documents telling them how o authenticate an order to launch, 'even how to identify the voice giving the order' [...].
The road was deserted and moonlit as we set out to drive the thirty miles to the launch capsule. Johnnie pointed out a missile silo which was no more than a concrete lid surrounded by a chain fence. [...] Inside the guard-post, [...] Johnnie and Tim each collected a .38 revolver and loaded it inside a metal barrel. "We don't want to zap anyone by mistake,' said Tim. The reason for the guns was unspoken: if one went berserk, the other had to shoot him. [...]
The lift doors parted and revealed a thing shaped like a Thermos flask, suspended from the ceiling by four gigantic shock absorbers. [...] The capsule appeared to be the latest in computerised tombs. Controls cluttered the walls and roof, leaving just enough space for shelves of red folders marked TOP SECRET, a bed, a plastic lavatory [...] and two aeroplane seats with safety belts - 'in case of turbulence under normal conditions,' said Johnnie. 'Normal conditions' meant nuclear war: that was the jargon.
'You see how far apart Tim and I are seated,' he said. 'It would be physically impossible for him to turn his key and then hustle over here and turn mine in time to fire a bird.' 'But,' I said, 'isn't it a fact that all the information and equipment required to start a nuclear war is known to each of you?' 'Yes,' they chorused with a certain pride. 'Hey, no sweat,' said Johnnie. 'We've both been put through the Human Reliability Programme, which means we've been cleared as sane and, anyway, one of us would know if the other was going bananas.'
At midnight all 200 missiles in the squadron were shown on the console under green lights. 'They are 100 per cent ready to go,' said Johnnie. But now there was a red light flashing and I was told to face the wall while the two men checked their red folders and consulted a computer to find out what was wrong. Within seconds a teleprinted reply was received. [...]
Into the early morning, with the hours dragging, Johnnie said, 'Monotony factor is always high down here.' [...] 'It's a thankless task we're performing here,' added Johnnie. [...]
To Tim's left and Johnnie's right were the two keyholes under transparent plastic covers. A launching, said Johnnie, would be 'deceptively quiet and undramatic.' They would simply lift the plastic covers and tick off a check list which would take three and a half minutes from the time the Emergency War Order had been authenticated. [...]
Johnnie: 'Launch keys!'
Tim: 'Deputy's key launched!'
Johnnie: 'Conference call' (to other capsules in the squadron).
Johnnie: 'Commit keys on my mark, 5 ... 4 ... 3... 2 ... 1.'
The two men rotated their keys half a turn to the right and held them while Johnnie counted again: '1 ... 2 ... 3... release!' (John Pilger, Heroes p 141 ff.)