Thanks to both the awesome Jeff Carlson and the Slush God, I found myself part of a group of SF writers touring NORAD today. NORAD, of course, is North American Aerospace Defense Command, and boy was it a trip. Some of the day’s recollections:
The front-door: That holy shit moment when (having passed through checkpoints and gotten on a military bus) we saw THE tunnel . . . the one I’ve seen so many times in movies and never once for real, leading into the depths of Cheyenne Mountain. . .
The blast-doors: At the bottom of the tunnel are the blast-doors. There are two, turned perpendicular so as to allow a blast to sideswipe them; behind them are caves within which are . . .
Rooms on springs: If your bunker doesn’t have springs, then you don’t have a bunker. The most secure area of NORAD is a series of rooms/shells mounted on springs in order to ride out shock-waves.
Without power, they’re just caves: The bulk of NORAD is infrastructure built to ensure that the complex continues to run even if everything’s anarchy outside and zombies are combing the countryside looking for meat. And yet, given the base’s current resources, it would apparently need resupply within a month. A fellow member of the tour suggested that this was disinformation; I would be inclined to think that it’s the honest truth, particularly given that . . . .
Without the Soviets, it’s all just window-dressing: Because as impressive as the place is, it belongs to a different era. The main hemisphere-scanning functions are now carried out by nearby Peterson Air Base, and NORAD has been relegated to redundancy and standby. Officially the Pentagon has done this because the U.S. is no longer threatened by massive nuclear attack; unofficially one might also note that the precision targeting of the latest nuclear weapons would turn the mountain into a smoking crater. Our tour’s directors were pretty frank with us about NORAD’s current standby situation, but were legitimately proud of the base’s history. The image that will remain with me for a long time were the sealed-up doorways that were far smaller than a blast-door but far larger than a normal door. Decades ago, mainframe computers were hauled through those openings and commissioned as the core of yesteryear’s NORAD. Now those machines have vanished, along with the enemy they once stood watch for.
A duck that will never quack: Yeah, you read that right. Look, here’s the thing: in the depths of NORAD is a reservoir, contained behind a small dam and leading into underwater caves. But floating on the water is what looks for all the world like a duck. Or rather, a fake duck/hunter’s decoy: one that NORAD maintenance divers placed on the surface to allow them to tell which way is up and thereby escape disorientation. They may have succeeded, but any newcomer to the world beneath the mountain won’t.