At least two stages of an MX missile involved in a malfunction within its silo north of Cheyenne, Wyo., have been shipped back to Utah, the Deseret News has learned.
An official investigation of the malfunction has been launched, the chief of public affairs for the 90th Strategic Missile Wing told the Deseret News. The Air Force says there was no danger to the public, but an anti-MX activist charges the Air Force is covering up, and stories suggesting great danger have circulated.An electrical connection was discovered disconnected during a mid-June inspection of a Peacekeeper missile site about 45 miles north of Cheyenne, said Lt. Col. Don Christianson, the public service chief at Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. He said this happened 45 miles north of Cheyenne.
The Peacekeeper is unofficially and more commonly known as the MX, America's most powerful intercontinental military rocket.
Several weeks ago, the missile was disassembled. "I know the stages were all taken out of the silo and they were all taken to either the depot or the contractor to aid in the investigation," he said.
He said he wasn't sure whether they remained at the depot or were sent along to the manufacturers.
Two stages are built in Utah. The first stage is built by Thiokol, the third by Hercules. Their depot is Hill Air Force Base.
So whether the stages went to the contractors or depot, stages one and three were returned to Utah. If all four stages went to the depot, they all were sent here.
The investigation team was appointed by Lt. Gen. Richard A. Burpee, commander of the Strategic Air Command's 15th Air Force. The 15th is based at March Air Force Base near Riverside, Calif.
A board of officers will conduct the investigation.
Christianson said the public was not in danger because of the incident.
May Kirkbride, an anti-MX activist who lives north of Cheyenne near the MX silos, thinks the whole story is not being told by the Air Force.
She believes the malfunction was at a silo about 28 miles north of Cheyenne, five miles from Chugwater, Wyo.
A week ago Thursday, she said, a civilian specialist telephoned a neighbor of Kirkbride's, telling her that the Air Force is engaged in a massive coverup.
According to the story, this civilian told her neighbor "things were so dangerous around this particular silo that he refused to go out there and he was fired."
The civilian was worried about an explosive carried by the missile, according to the story.
When area residents tried to get back in touch with the civilian, they couldn't reach him, Kirkbride said. "I think he's left town," she said.
The rumor is that the third stage of the MX had collapsed and was leaning against the side of the canister within the silo. This is what pulled the umbilical cord connection out, the residents believe.
"The Air Force didn't acknowledge that's what happened," she said. "They denied that anything happened except that the umbilical cord had come loose. The next thing was that the Air Force said that it (the missile) had been dismantled. We think from the fact that the place was cordoned off and nobody could get near, that it happened on the 27th of July.
"It was taken apart and shipped to the various manufacturers. The third stage was built by Hercules in Utah, so that's where that piece was sent."
Ted Olsen, spokesman for Hercules, said he could not comment on the report. He referred the Deseret News to the Strategic Air Command and Warren AFB.
A SAC public affairs spokesman in Nebraska referred the Deseret News to Warren, where Christianson confirmed part of the story.
Asked whether it was true that a civilian was fired for refusing to check the missile, he said, "I haven't heard anything of that sort."
Did the missile lean over? "I don't know," he said. "That'll be part of the investigation." Then he added, "If it occurred, that'll be included" in the investigation.
The MX is powered by solid fuel, which is not apt to detonate. But Stage 4 - made by Rocketdyne at Conoga Park, Calif. - has a small amount of two liquid fuels used to position the reentry vehicle, he said.