Following the Soviet Union’s Oct. 4, 1957, launch of the Sputnik 1, the United States scrambled to launch its own satellite and rushed to deploy intercontinental ballistic missiles.
During a Feb. 23, 1960, tour of Vandenberg Air Force Base, the media was shown America’s first operational ICBM missiles — three Atlas D missiles with nuclear warheads. In addition, other launch facilities were shown.
A Feb. 29, 1960, Los Angeles Times brief stated, “Three Atlas launching pads on the Strategic Air Command base at Vandenberg Air Force Base represent the United States’ sole ICBM retaliation capability against a foreign missile attack.”
Space-aviation editor Marvin Miles reported:
The basic mission of the 1st Missile Division, commanded by tall, heavy-set Maj. Gen. David Wade, is the training of missile crews, although the three unprotected Atlas pads — resulting from a crash program to achieve ICBM operational status soonest — are primarily combat-ready units.
Three horizontal Atlas launchers are nearing readiness, systems that maintain the missiles horizontal, but shielded to some degree by concrete walls and roll-away roofs.
In action, the roof is hauled clear to expose the bird, which is then erected for launching within the walled shelter. …
Together with the Atlas complexes, Vandenberg will have underground silo systems for Titan, the ICBM (now under flight test) that will follow Atlas into operational status.
The first Titan silo with an elevator to surface the missile for launching is now nearing completion with its complex of tunnels and underground facilities, and probably four more such silos will be constructed here. …
These various installations, with the exception of Minuteman for which a site is now being considered, were shown to newsmen for the first time today when this secret base was really opened to the press. …
Reporters came away with high respect for the job being done at Vandenberg for the Atlas, the command system and the crews responsible for maintaining and launching the huge birds.
They saw eight Atlases on the base — three on the ready pads, four in missile assembly (two operational, two training), one in a horizontal launcher. Then they saw two more being delivered from Convair as they departed.
Reaction was unanimous:
“Wish we had more.”
In total, about 130 Atlas missiles were deployed across the United States. Starting in 1964, they were phased out in favor of Titan and Minuteman ICBMs.
A 1963 Titan II missile complex near Tucson is preserved as the Titan Missile Museum.
I’ve added a 1959 photo of construction at Vandenberg Air Force Base and two 2014 photos of the Titan Missile Museum to the above photo gallery.