Keypad salvaged from nuclear missile silo gets upgrade

ByDavid M. Conte

Dec 2, 2021
Image of the article titled What could be cooler than typing on a keyboard salvaged from a nuclear missile silo?

Knowing the history of their hardware is often as important to keyboard enthusiasts as the feel and sounds of the keys they hit all day. But it is difficult to imagine a keyboard having a more interesting story that this bizarre layout that was retrieved from a Minuteman III nuclear missile silo.

The Nuclear Keyboard, as a YouTube channel Useless DIY refers to this cold war relic, was originally purchased on eBay with a matching trackball accessory due to its fascinating layout which includes special function keys marked with menacing labels such as “GO TO VOICE” , “INITIATE” and a large blue “ABORT” button which should really be a standard button on every keyboard. When purchasing, there was no doubt that it was a keyboard designed and used by the military, but as Pointless Tinkering digged deeper into its origins, they discovered that it was in fact, material that very few people were privileged to use.

The origin of the keyboard and trackball can be traced back to the late 1980s, when the US Air Force’s Strategic Air Command (SAC) launched a $ 632 million program called Quick execution and combat targeting, or REACT, for short, the purpose of which was to update the control systems of nuclear missile silos in use since the 1960s and 1970s. The main objective of REACT was to make it much easier to retarget both individual missiles and the Air Force’s entire nuclear missile fleet, which was traditionally a process that took weeks, but by the 1990s it had been reduced to less than a day with the new material .

That was three decades ago, however, and the hardware used in the Minuteman III nuclear missile silos has been updated again, but instead of sending the REACT consoles to be scrapped., in true capitalist fashion, some of them ended up on eBay.

The first USB ports didn’t start appearing in computers until around 1998, and they were unlikely to be available in time for the new Air Force REACT consoles, which undoubtedly took years. to be designed and developed before being implemented. As a result, the keyboard and trackball communicated via the old RS422 protocol, requiring complete disassembly, intelligent reverse engineering, and the use of an Arduino Pro Micro to translate key inputs into a USB port that can be connected to computers. modern.

The trackball also required some extensive TLC to get it back to good working order, but given its age, it doesn’t appear to be as reliable or accurate as modern trackballs. On top of that, custom software had to be developed to make both devices work well with something other than computers designed to launch nuclear missiles, and this can be downloaded here if you come across a Minuteman III REACT console to call your own, but don’t have a nuclear missile silo to go with it.


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