Boom.
October 21, 2006 2:09 PM   Subscribe

This is what the end of the world looks like. Photos of ballistic missiles, especially reentry vehicle tests. (Sound on last link.)
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim (69 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Those are beautiful in that horrible deadly way that only the most well-engineered weapons are.
posted by blacklite at 2:15 PM on October 21, 2006


Holy crap.
posted by nev at 2:17 PM on October 21, 2006


Now that's some impressive kinetic energy. Though at least one photo described it as being a long duration exposure, in which case it would be a single ball of burning death coming down instead of a superstream of unadolterated slaughter. Don't want to get our apocolypses confused now do we?
posted by NGnerd at 2:19 PM on October 21, 2006


What's with this curl in the flight path?
posted by delmoi at 2:20 PM on October 21, 2006


That's ok, I was trained on laser shooting tanks.

I'm just saying that there's more to any photo than what you see.
posted by furtive at 2:22 PM on October 21, 2006


delmoi: second stage?
posted by furtive at 2:23 PM on October 21, 2006


this stuff almost makes me wish i had went into aerospace engineering instead of electrical.

i don't understand the significance of the traces -- are they lasers tracking the flight, or are they all different....missles? the caption didn't really explain well.
posted by virga at 2:25 PM on October 21, 2006


This is what it reads like.
posted by crunchland at 2:25 PM on October 21, 2006


I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.
posted by loquacious at 2:25 PM on October 21, 2006




it's ok for a few minutes
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 2:26 PM on October 21, 2006 [3 favorites]


"What's with this curl in the flight path?

Looks like bourbon and coke.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:27 PM on October 21, 2006


Wow. Those look like they're from a movie.
posted by ®@ at 2:28 PM on October 21, 2006


i don't understand the significance of the traces -- are they lasers tracking the flight, or are they all different....missles? the caption didn't really explain well.

No lasers. ICBMs have MIRVs, multiple independent reentry vehicles. Each missile carries several warheads which can each hit a different target. The traces are created by the reentry vehicle glowing red-hot. I don't know the time duration of its visibility, so I can't say if you'd see a moving glowing point, a trace like in the photos, or something in between.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:30 PM on October 21, 2006


It's long-exposure. You can see the arcs made by the stars moving in one of the photos.
posted by nervestaple at 2:34 PM on October 21, 2006


Can't access anything at www.smdc.army.mil from here? Did we just DDoS the military or is it just because I am some stinking foreign bastard?
posted by public at 2:39 PM on October 21, 2006


These traces are not long exposure, they are caused by the MIRV's coming in white hot from re-entry and they come in fast.
posted by fingerbang at 2:40 PM on October 21, 2006


I never understood how one nuclear explosion could not wipe out other incoming MIRVS before they hit. I'm sure they have this figured out of course.
posted by stbalbach at 2:41 PM on October 21, 2006


It's long-exposure. You can see the arcs made by the stars moving in one of the photos.

I have a gut feeling (no photography experience) reentry doesn't take anywhere near as long as that photo was exposed. The RVs just fell from space and they're hauling ass, so while I don't know if they'd be visible for a couple seconds or a few minutes, I don't think the stars would have time to wheel in the sky while it was falling. Unless the stars move quicker than I thought.

In the first picture you can properly see waves.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:42 PM on October 21, 2006


What's with this curl in the flight path?

From Wikipedia: During test flights that occur at White Sands Missile Range, the missile undergoes the THAAD Energy Management Steering (TEMS) maneuver to burn excess booster propellant and primarily to keep the missile within test range boundaries (see Figure "TEMS contrail" on right).

In other words, it's deliberatly corkscrewing to burn off fuel and reduce the range it flies during the tests at WSMR. Since THAAD is a kinetic energy kill, if it misses, it falls out of the sky pretty much intact, and they'd much rather have it land on the range rather than on someone's house.

In real use, they wouldn't care where it lands if it misses.
posted by eriko at 2:48 PM on October 21, 2006


Many of those photos are remarkably pretty. Disturbing when you consider the source, but pretty.

And if I may be pedantic for a moment, technically none of those pictures represent anything that would be capable of 'ending the world'. Ending all higher life forms, sure, but the world will still be here. This is what the end of the world looks like.

Great find though, TheOnlyCoolTim.
posted by quin at 2:49 PM on October 21, 2006


Delmoi, the "curl" is the result of the engine smoke getting caught in a turbulence vortex caused by the rocket passing through the atmosphere.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:50 PM on October 21, 2006


By the way, there's an entirely different way to look at this: these are pictures of the deterrent weapons that prevented the world from ending during the 40 years of the Cold War. Because those weapons were developed, the Cold War didn't turn white hot.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:53 PM on October 21, 2006


In other words this is all time lapse/left open shutter photography. In real life they would wizz by, probably registering less of a trace than a micrometeor breaking up in the atmosphere. Neat stuff though.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:53 PM on October 21, 2006


Those pics are terrific, TheOnlyCoolTim, thanks.

Their beauty reminds me of pictures I saw in the 70s: one of my cousin had been based in the Pacific while being in the French military; he had brought back wonderful aerial pictures of thermonuclear tests over the Muruora atoll. You couldn't help being awed by the beauty of the colours and the shapes (this is the only one I could find through Google, but it gives a general idea) while trying to balance that the thing was just a WMD.

Beauty in the Beast, I guess.
posted by bru at 2:58 PM on October 21, 2006


public, they work fine for me. Here's a mirror just in case.

/have sunk to a new low

posted by damn dirty ape at 2:59 PM on October 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


What's with the regular ol' contrail heading right toward the missile firing area here? Didn't they have a NOTAM out for the area or something?
posted by rolypolyman at 3:11 PM on October 21, 2006


I'm speechless. Those 'Peacekeepers' are incredible in their ability to destroy anything.

Den Beste: I dunno if these really saved us from nuclear winter... Really begs the question.
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 3:25 PM on October 21, 2006


does anyone else feel compelled, as i do, to sing "lucy in the sky with diamonds"!
posted by clyde at 3:31 PM on October 21, 2006


That train-based missile scheme was pretty clever.
posted by smackfu at 3:45 PM on October 21, 2006


By the way, there's an entirely different way to look at this: these are pictures of the deterrent weapons that prevented the world from ending during the 40 years of the Cold War.

there's even another way to look at it ... these are pictures of weapons from a civilization that is so arrogant as to think that civilization is worth destroying over political and economic differences

if our civilization survives, this will probably be remembered as the folly it is

if it doesn't, it will certainly be remembered as such, if anyone's still around to remember it
posted by pyramid termite at 3:54 PM on October 21, 2006


By the way, there's an entirely different way to look at this: these are pictures of the deterrent weapons that prevented the world from ending during the 40 years of the Cold War.

That's a bit paradoxical, given that the world would have only ended during the Cold War as a result of said deterrents.
posted by The God Complex at 4:07 PM on October 21, 2006



posted by lemonfridge at 4:34 PM on October 21, 2006


the deterrent weapons that prevented the world from ending during the 40 years of the Cold War

Yeah, thank God (or perhaps Klaus Fuchs?) that the Soviets got the Bomb so quickly, making Mutually Assured Destruction possible /end sarcasm
posted by Skeptic at 4:36 PM on October 21, 2006


Because those weapons were developed, the Cold War didn't turn white hot.

It did, though. Recall that, during an episode of US ships dropping depth charges during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in order to try to force some Soviet subs to surface, two out of the three necessary officers (according to Soviet protocols) on one beleaguered sub, agreed to fire their nuclear torpedo at a US ship. The third refused, (and the other two followed their orders!), and so the world was saved, for the moment.

these are pictures of the deterrent weapons that prevented the world from ending during the 40 years of the Cold War.

Wrong again, StevenC. There was a very strong faction in the politburo, and in the military command structure, which argued that because of the development of these very missles, the strategic balance had tipped so far in favor of the US that the only option left to the USSR was a first strike. They were over-ruled.

But once again, we were saved, and the world was saved, despite the depthless stupidity of our own leadership, by the humanity and wisdom of our adversaries.
posted by jamjam at 4:41 PM on October 21, 2006


Are you seriously suggesting that the Soviet Union was the good guys in the Cold War? "Humanity and wisdom"?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:03 PM on October 21, 2006


So, when they all talk about "destroying civilization", where do places like Australia or South America fit into things?

Were they going to get bombed just for the hell of it?
posted by smackfu at 5:14 PM on October 21, 2006


It's so quaint that you look at the world and wars in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys." Almost cute. You know, if it wasn't so revoltingly ignorant.

Humanity and wisdom is exactly the terms that should be applied.

And by the way, if you're arguing about the behavior of TEH RED EMENY during the Cold War, you might try linking to something that actually happened while it was going on. An artificial famine that occured about 15 years before the start of the Cold War doesn't hold much rhetorical weight.
posted by quite unimportant at 5:31 PM on October 21, 2006




Are. Humanity and wisdom are exactly the terms that should be applied.

Is our children learning? Not this one.
posted by quite unimportant at 5:34 PM on October 21, 2006


In case you're not sufficiently horrified, just one of the Peacekeeper missiles in the "ballistic" link typically carries 10 warheads of 300-475 kilotons each. That's a minimum of 3 megatons per peacekeeper missile. We have 50 of these missiles, apparently.

As a basis of camparison, the North Korea nuke was at most 0.005 megatons.
posted by Pastabagel at 5:38 PM on October 21, 2006


There was a very strong faction in the politburo, and in the military command structure, which argued that because of the development of these very missles

In particular, the Pershing 1a and 1b IRBM, which gave the US the ability to make a signficant first strike against "west side" Soviet strategic forces and Moscow in less than 10 minutes.

This put the USSR in a very bad spot -- a decapitation strike could work, leaving the USSR dead without a counterstrike being ordered. Thus, in 1979, the USSR quietly changes from the former "Launch on First Warning" to "Launch on suspicion of order." They doubled and redoubled the intelligence efforts in the US, because they thought that the only hope of deterrence was to know that the US was launching *before* the launches occured, because if the US led a strike with the West Germany based Pershings, the warnings and warheads would be arriving in Moscow at about the same time.

Four years later, everyone almost lost, during Operation Able Archer 83. On the last day of the excercise, the Soviets start behaving very strangley, then suddenly, the entire Soviet Strategic Force goes onto High Alert. 8 hours later, the exercise ends, and the USSR slowly backs down. This leaves the White House a little shaken and a lot confused. There was talk of maybe it being a drill. Who knew?

AA83 was a unique excercise, in that it included US strateic forces and NCA figures -- Including Maggie Thatcher and Helmut Khol. Reagan and Bush themselves were to take part, but the newly installed Bobby McFarlane nixed the idea as being too hostile to the Soviets.

Thank God.

Because, after the fall, we found out what the Soviets had been doing on that night of 11 November, 1983. What they were doing wasn't a drill. They were getting ready for a full launch. Why?

Because they saw the US and NATO suddenly do something they never saw before. During Able Archer 83, NATO forces went to DEFCON 4, then 3, then 2 -- never *ever* seen before by the Soviets. At this point, the USSR freaks and leaps to whatever their version of DEFCON 2 was.

Then NATO goes to DEFCON 1, and the KGB reports that to Moscow. The Soviets are on the brink, they can't hear NATO forces anymore, as they all go silent in DEFCON 1. They know there will be one more burst of traffic, that will either back the forces down, or order the launch. They know that they won't know what it will be until the warheads from the Pershings are less than two minutes from impact.

The stated policy of the Strategic Forces of the USSR is clear. They must launch now.

What holds them back? A report that Reagan is in DC, hosting a banquet. This puzzles them, and they think for a bit, and AA83 ends, and NATO forces back down and start broadcasting in clear -- which not only means back down, but means that they're off alert completely. The USSR uncocks the pistol, but they don't holster it for three days.

If Reagan had taken part, we'd be dead.

To his credit, once enough is figured out about that strange November night, Ronald Reagan understands that we just about destroyed the world. The result?

Reagan gets on a plane and meets with Gorbachev -- a summit out of nowhere. The purpose? To tell the Soviets that this was not the plan, we would not destroy them out of the blue, and could we talk about serious arms control now?

They listen, and the USSR steps back to "launch on first warning". The INF treaty is signed in 1987, START follows. Once the intel was in, Reagan realized that he was pushing the Soviets too hard, and, to his credit, he took dramatic steps to calm the waters. We were too fucking close.

The sad thing? There was an offer on the table, in 1981, the zero-zero offer. No IRBMs, at all. The problem? The US can't promise that the UK and France will play ball. Talks are suspended in early 1983. We almost die later that year. We still deploy the Pershing II -- we didn't know, yet, what had happened that night. They were the first missles to go in the INF treaty.

You want to know when the cold war ended? It ended, really, on November 12th, 1983. Nobody realized it at the time, but when the US and USSR finally figured out just how close they'd gotten to the big hit -- the Soviets were priming a full counterforce and countereconomy strike -- everyone started waking up.
posted by eriko at 5:40 PM on October 21, 2006 [69 favorites]


The end looks good.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 5:42 PM on October 21, 2006


The next piece you are going to see is the THAAD launch. It is firing off the THAAD launcher. There it goes. The first maneuver it does, that strange spinning maneuver, is the THAAD Energy Management Steering to burn off energy so it stays within the White Sands Missile Range. It is also used for a low-altitude intercept. -- Lt. Gen Paul L. Kern, briefing the press on a test

eriko +1
posted by dhartung at 5:42 PM on October 21, 2006


yowza.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:51 PM on October 21, 2006


But once again, we were saved, and the world was saved, despite the depthless stupidity of our own leadership, by the humanity and wisdom of our adversaries.
posted by jamjam at 7:41 PM EST on October 21 [+] [!]


This makes no sense. They concluded that their only option was to strike first, but they decided not to exercise that option, so it was their humanity that saved us? I don't think so.

As much as everyone hates to admit it, what won the cold war was SDI. Regardless of whether or not it was ever even feasible, when Reagan announced SDI, it chagned the dynamics of the cold war. It turned the focus of the war from the rocket technology that the soviets were as good as if not better than the US at, and made the war about advanced techonologies, like electronics, computers, etc. that the Soviets simply did not have and were in no position to develop.

The Soviets believed we could develop SDI (regardless of whether that belief turned out to be wrong in retrospect), and they knew that depolyment of SDI would not only make nuclear war unwinnable by the Soviets (MAD ensured that already), but it would now make a nuclear war unfightable by them too. The prospect of SDI was the prospect of having at most a few % of Soviet missiles reach their targets, while all US missles reach theirs.

Read Gorbachev's and his aides' and ministers' accounts of the mid-80's summits with Reagan. SDI and Reagan's unwillingness to negotiate about it drove them crazy.

We know now SDI was a myth, but looking at how the US was advancing technologically in the 80's, it was reasonable for the Soviets to think we could pull it off.
posted by Pastabagel at 5:56 PM on October 21, 2006


Not a missile, but this is a pretty scary sight.
posted by Artw at 5:57 PM on October 21, 2006


it was reasonable for the Soviets to think we could pull it off.

whatever. The mere fact that Gorbachev was in power was evidence that the Soviet state was on its last legs.

I was alive and reasonably aware during the Andropov -> Chernenko -> Gorbachev transitions. Tetris did more to win the cold war than the trillion or so -- that we are still paying interest on, mind -- we threw away on 'defense' appropriations in the 1980s.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:16 PM on October 21, 2006


Has anyone listened to the audio link at the bottom of the last linked page in the FPP? It sounds like a joke...

"...Consequently, the position where it is is now the position where it wasn't, and it follows that the position where it was is now the position where it isn't...."

posted by TonyRobots at 6:25 PM on October 21, 2006


I'm wondering about the date on some of those photos. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "In 2005, the Pentagon completed the retirement of the MX Peacekeeper ICBM, after almost 20 years of service." (Under the paragraph entitled "ICBMs".) It would seem that as the ban on MIRV's is no longer in effect, they could start making them again, indeed, "The air force issued a Mission Need Statement in 2002 for a new ICBM to be introduced in 2018." Which is, you know, *nice*. Of course, they could just be testing things, although with tensions being the way that they are, I'd think that a display of force like that wouldn't be the best course of action with North Korea (to name one) being so..... "itchy".

Having said all that, I'm well aware I may be totally wrong - I follow things like this only peripherally, as I just end up depressed, ya know. Also, eriko, great story there - you can just *rock* me to sleep tonight. ;)
posted by Zack_Replica at 6:28 PM on October 21, 2006


Great post. Thanks!
posted by Count Ziggurat at 6:40 PM on October 21, 2006


As much as everyone hates to admit it, what won the cold war was SDI.

The obsession we have that something on our side "won" the cold war is awfully besides the point. The miraculous thing about it is not that we won, but that the Soviet Union fell apart peacefully, a process for which we have a lot of Russians to thank and not so much the American establishment. The Soviet Union could have dissolved in a much worse fashion than it did, and to credit the US with that is to suggest that the Soviets were really our puppets at that point, which is ridiculous.
posted by furiousthought at 6:46 PM on October 21, 2006


What's with the regular ol' contrail heading right toward the missile firing area here?

im in ur airspace killin ur planez.
posted by Opposite George at 7:12 PM on October 21, 2006


As much as everyone hates to admit it, what won the cold war was SDI. posted by Pastabagel at 5:56 PM PST

And you know this to be The Truth? Because Leo Wanta claims he was a prong in such an attack. By busting the currency. And cash flow in was cut when the Saudis sold oil at $10 at barrel.

Why should the conspiracy theory about SDI be believed over others?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:24 PM on October 21, 2006


This is what the end of the world looks like...

These are merely the stage lights coming on. Many have already seen the opening (and final) act: the Art of the Hibakusha.
posted by cenoxo at 7:57 PM on October 21, 2006


and I feel fine.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:11 PM on October 21, 2006


whatever the hell that sound file is, it's priceless. is that really how the military trains its missile operators? good lord!
posted by sergeant sandwich at 9:37 PM on October 21, 2006


stbalbach: it's called fratricide, and yeah, they have to take it into account.
posted by hattifattener at 10:33 PM on October 21, 2006


And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction
posted by augustweed at 10:53 PM on October 21, 2006


Great photos. At least Armageddon will be aesthetically pleasing.

This post made me think about footage I'd seen years ago of early ABM tests. While not nearly as pretty, the incredible speed of Sprint missiles still amazes me (you can check it out after about 1:25 into this video [youtube]).
posted by senor biggles at 11:17 PM on October 21, 2006


Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction


May I humbly suggest: when quoting passages from songs, books, etc., please credit the source.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:27 PM on October 21, 2006


May I humbly suggest: when quoting passages from songs, books, etc., please credit the source

Sure . . . then the same goes to:

CynicalKnight -- and I feel fine (REM)

and

loquacious -- I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure. (Aliens)
posted by augustweed at 11:38 PM on October 21, 2006


BTW . . . here's a nice video with Barry McGuire's song
posted by augustweed at 11:41 PM on October 21, 2006


Everybody Dies.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:49 AM on October 22, 2006


When you see this, it's time to piss your pants.
posted by Mister_A at 8:47 AM on October 22, 2006


That missle guidance wav file in the last link is TERRIFYING.
posted by sgobbare at 1:22 PM on October 22, 2006


No, eriko's comment is terrifying. But I'll grant that the .wav is eerie and surreal. Did R. D. Laing write for the military?
posted by eritain at 3:50 AM on October 23, 2006


Ah, eriko demonstrates the erudition that Steven C. "Vortex" Den Beste wishes he possessed so that he'd not the imbecile he so clearly is.

"The miraculous thing about it is not that we won, but that the Soviet Union fell apart peacefully, a process for which we have a lot of Russians to thank and not so much the American establishment."

Especially not the American establishment and most especially not thanks to SDI. The implicit truth in Pastabagel's theory which is explicit in eriko's narrative is that the degree to which anyone might assert SDI pushed the Soviets over the edge (economically) is also the degree to which SDI pushed the Soviets over the edge (strategically, militarily). If SDI had the effect that Pastabagel (among many others) claims it did on the thinking of the Soviet leadership, then they had two prominent rational responses: first strike before SDI was operational or give up.

It's almost certainly wrong that to assert that they gave up. I believe that had we been able to field an effective product of SDI before the Soviet Union broke apart, they'd have attacked us with a massive first strike as their only alternative. As it actually happened, they weren't forced to that position. They had no incentive to begin nuclear Armageddon until shortly before SDI became operational. That still hasn't happened and their country no longer exists.

In other words, at least up until 1990 or so, we're damn lucky SDI is the pipe-dream that it is.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:04 AM on October 23, 2006


But I'll grant that the .wav is eerie and surreal

Yes -- pretty typical for guidance signals though. The usual way to encode more than one anymore is by phase.

irst strike before SDI was operational or give up.

It wasn't SDI -- SDI worried them, but they knew how hard the intercept on terminal course problem was, so that wasn't what drove them to the hair trigger.

What drove the Soviet mad was the IRBMs being able to strike faster than thier detect and warn system could function.

Kennedy almost went to war to keep the Soviets from putting IRBMs in a similar position. Those were old, slow, and innacurate IRBMS -- they'd be able to hit DC, but nothing anything really specific in DC.

The Pershing 1a was accurate enough to be a counterforce threat -- a weak one against silos, but more than enough against air and sub bases, plus rather than hitting Moscow, it could hit the Kremlin. (This is still a large target, btw, but...) Meanwhile, the US was working up the Pershing 2, with a manuerverable reentry vehicle, that gave it CEPs on the order of 100 feet -- more than accuate enough to get missles in silos.

Imagine the Soviets having the ability to take out the US east coast sub and air bases, DC, and the Missouri and SoDak missle fields, in ten minutes.

You think we might have freaked just a little bit?

Even subs weren't this bad -- because of the missle size and the water launch, seeing them on launch was trivial for satellites with IR gear, and a short distance launch tended to be a very high arc, so you had more time to deal with them -- almost all multistage boosters are comitted to a full burn of the first stage propellants, using limits on later stages to control range, but at very close range, the first stage is going to overshoot if you aren't careful. The limits on solid booster often involve hot seperation or breaking open the booster case to dump the remaning delta-v. It's a hard problem with solid, one that's by no means solved.

Digression: The Shuttle's very scary "ATLS" -- Abort to Launch Site" invovles flying away from KSC until the SRB are exhausted, then using the main engine to turn around and establish a glide back to KSC. This means flying backwords, with the main engines running, to null the large velocity the SRBs gave you.

Why fly that long? You can't turn the SRBs off, and ejecting them under power would be suicide. So, you keep flying for a bit, praying that whatever went wrong enough to make you turn around and go home (as opposed to aborting across the Atlantic, or "Abort once around" -- fly an orbit and land.) Both are much easier on the shuttle than ATLS.

The only abort the shuttle ever used was ATO -- abort to orbit, which means "screw the mission parameters, get into a safe orbit." STS-51-F had the #1 SSME shut down about six minutes into the burn, making the target orbit impossible (a second SSME almost shut down for the same reason -- a bad temp sensor indicating overheat, but a flight controller shut the shut down down. (parses again. Yes.) Since 51-F was a Spacelab mission, they were able to accomplish most of the mission in the new orbit. If it had been a launch mission, it probably would have failed, if it was a rendezvous mission, it would have definitly failed.

STS-93 had a fuel leak during boost, which left it in a lower orbit than planned. Unlike 51-F, this wasn't an abort -- they just failed to make the target orbit. 51-F had the crew and controllers explicitly running an abort trajectory.
posted by eriko at 5:56 AM on October 23, 2006


That missle guidance wav file in the last link is TERRIFYING.

Calculus is terrifying, that wav file just brings it to life.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:26 AM on October 23, 2006


« Older Ready, "Willin'", & Able   |   Anything Can Happen on Halloween Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments