Inside the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station as NORAD turns 60

EL PASO COUNTY -- FOX31 is getting a rare look inside one of the most secure, classified military installations on the planet.  A nuclear bomb-proof bunker nestled inside a Colorado mountain.  It's the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.

This week, the Air Force is celebrating the 60th anniversary of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

"It is one of the safest places on earth," said Steve Rose, Deputy Director of the 721st Mission Support Group.

Burrowed inside Cheyenne Mountain west of Colorado Springs, you'll find the most famous bunker in the world.

"It's pretty impressive when you walk through that tunnel, to understand the scope and the breadth and vision of people in the 1950s to create this complex," said Col. Travis Morehen of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who serves as the Deputy Chief of the NORAD-USNORTHCOM Command Center.

Miners, architects and engineers hollowed out the mountain 60 years ago - at the height of the cold war - building a modern marvel.

"And the solid piece of granite that Cheyenne Mountain provided is a perfect location to drill in to and provide a command and control facility," Rose said.

First thing you see inside the mountain is the three-foot-thick blast doors. They're made from 23 tons of steel and concrete, built to withstand a nuclear blast.  In case of attack, they're slammed shut - protecting the staff inside the mountain.  The good news is, they've almost never had to close them. Almost.

"The only time we've closed the blast door since 1992 under threat was during the morning of 9/11," said Rose.

Inside those doors, a series of buildings built on hundreds of springs, so they can bounce and sway in a nuclear attack or earthquake.

A few yards away is Cheyenne Mountain's most famous room - the Alternate Command Center or ACC. For decades inside this room, military officials from the US and Canada have watched for missiles, nuclear attacks and rogue aircraft in the skies over North America.

Hollywood made this room famous. The Command Center plays a pivotal role in the 1983 movie "WarGames," starring Matthew Broderick.  The film depicts NORAD's Command Center as a huge, bustling room where teams of Air Force officers are preparing for nuclear war with the USSR.

"I've been told that when the producers walked into this room, they looked at it and said, 'Oh no, this won't do.'  So they recreated their own version," said Lance Blyth, command historian at NORAD.

Cheyenne Mountain now shares duties with nearby Peterson Air Force Base when it comes to monitoring threats against North America, but that doesn't mean they're any less prepared.

"It is as relevant today as it was in the 60s and 70s," Rose said. "We are providing a premiere facility for this nation's defense."

To learn more about activities planned this week to commemorate the 60th anniversary of NORAD, click here.

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