A Visit to Cheyenne Mountain Complex
Photo Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NORADNorth-Portal.jpg
Recently I had the joy and honor of joining members of the Space Foundation team on an unclassified tour of Cheyenne Mountain, sarting home of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). It's ironic as a tour has been on my to-do list ever since I could remember. I just never thought that I would actually get to go. It was a great surprise when I learned of the trip. Isn't it amazing how things work out like that?
I discovered Cheyenne Mountain through imaginative movies and TV growing up. The Stargate program was based there, where people traveled through wormholes to other planets far away. It was a main focus of alien attack in Independance Day. Don't forget about the classic movie War Games. The underground installation has captivated the imagination of many, including myself.
Photo Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NORADBlast-Doors.jpg
While movies have built some grandiose visions of what's inside the installation, I found that the Hollywood view definitely stops at the blast doors. I felt it was rather practical inside, like a well kept self-sustainable high school (with lockers even!), on springs, without windows, inside a cave.
Here's a few interesting down-to-earth factoids about the place (Correct me if I'm off, there was a lot to take in!):
- Cheyenne Mountain is located in Colorado Springs, CO not Cheyenne, Wyoming (I was asked about this a couple times recently).
- Cheyenne Mountain Complex is an installation, not a base. Air Force installations and bases are very similar. However installations are smaller than bases and don't have space allocated for residency. Everyone that works at Cheyenne Mountain lives off-site. Cheyenne Mountain does have amenities such as a small shoppette and cafeteria.
- Built by the Navy starting in 1961, the installation was completed in 1964 when the keys were passed to the Air Force. NORAD, a joint effort to this day between United States and Canada was operational in 1966.
- Cheyenne Mountain took 1 year to hollow out with dynamite. The excavated debris filled a ravine outside the installation, now a parking lot. All expenses were paid by the United States Government, with exception of the dynamite. Canada covered the explosives.
- NORAD's mission is to determine if North America is under attack, and inform both the United States and Canadian presidents if that's the case. They now monitor everything air, space, and sea around and in North America and report to military and civil authorities on potential threats.
- NORAD doesn't launch missiles like some people think. They simply provide info (although the process of simply providing info is quite complex).
- The installation is 2,000 feet into the mountain.
- Cheyenne Mountain is not NORAD. It was NORAD's primary facility as a tenant there until 2006 when they decided to move their main operations more fully to Peterson Air Force Base. The move removed duplicate efforts between both locations. Cheyenne Mountain now runs on stand-by, partially staffed as a backup command location. Everything is well-kept, ready for action if/when needed.
A friend asked, "Did you see the stargate?" Well no, I took the unclassified tour. However I did see a jarred specimen in the backup command center, there to scare bugs away that recently arrived through the gate. It detoured the bugs from chewing on wires and shoe laces. I also caught a glimpse of the big red button. ;)
In truth though, this tour gave me a greater appreciation for the efforts of NORAD. I feel it's important to have an awareness of threats, and know about attacks if they are happening (communication is key!). The tour guides were fantastic, helping me dispel myths and gain a greater understanding of the NORAD mission.
The Space Foundation spoiled me rotten with this adventurous opportunity. They tend to be great at spoiling the employees. I think I've had more travel, site seeing, family time, and training than in the previous 6+ years! I'm looking forward to the next adventure. National Space Symposium is coming up next. See you there!