Minuteman mission remains successful on 50th anniversary

A Minuteman missile maintainence crew works on a Minuteman II missile, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. On Aug. 18, 1965, the first Minuteman II missile launched successfully from an operationally configured silo here at Vandenberg – now, five decades later, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of that significant accomplishment. (Courtesy photo)

A Minuteman missile maintainence crew works on a Minuteman II missile, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. On Aug. 18, 1965, the first Minuteman II missile launched successfully from an operationally configured silo here at Vandenberg – now, five decades later, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of that significant accomplishment. (Courtesy photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In 1962, Lt. Gen. Bernard Schriever, commander of Air Force Systems Command, was tasked with naming the latest intercontinental ballistic missile developed to keep pace with the Soviet Union and their long-range ballistic missiles.

The missile's original name was planned to be "Sentinel", but the connection between solid fuel's ability to "launch in a minute" and America's always ready Minutemen, posed too great of an opportunity to pass up. Schriever chose the name "Minuteman" as a nod to American history.

On Aug. 18, 1965, the first Minuteman II missile launched successfully from an operationally configured silo here at Vandenberg. Now, five decades later, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of that significant accomplishment.

"The Minuteman ICBM was planned, and proved to be, an efficient, mass-produced, simple, and survivable missile capable of targeting multiple objectives," said Shawn Riem, 30th Space Wing historian. "Such a weapons system helped close the perceived missile gap with Soviet Russia. Minuteman ICBMs cut time-to-launch from hours to minutes - a feat very important in the early days of the Cold War."

The continued testing of the weapons system is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

"Since the conception of the Minuteman weapon system during the Cold War to today, the testing at Vandenberg has provided a means of nuclear deterrence for our nation's enemies and security for our nation's allies," said Staff Sgt. Kyle Wiens, 576th Flight Launch Test Squadron electronics laboratory leader task supervisor. "Since the 1960s, the Minuteman weapon system has preserved our way of life and helped secure the United States' interests - both domestic and abroad."

Documenting these historical milestones provides proof of the consistent and continued success in accomplishing a key national defense mission at Vandenberg.

"The preservation of the Minuteman's history helps sustain our nuclear heritage and pride in the fact we have been accomplishing the mission successfully for over 50 years," said Wiens.

That preservation begins with collecting and archiving data from past missions - both positive and negative.

"The 576th FLTS has collected data on all previously launched Minuteman vehicles," said Wiens. "The data is evaluated and used to improve the weapon system through modifications and keep the Minuteman a sustainable and viable option in the future. The data collected will also help ensure that previous mistakes will not be repeated."

Fifty years after its inception, the Minuteman mission continues to withstand the test of time - thanks to its dedicated predecessors and their successors.

"I think most importantly, we can learn from it," said Riem. "We can gather information from the past, what we did and what the other guy did, and gauge if our response to events was effective. We can use past events to plan new ways to respond to prolonged conflicts or repeated environmental events, like hurricanes or wildfires. Knowing our history, having some understanding of what we did and why, helps us understand why things are as they are today, and it can help us to not take things for granted."