How reliable are the 150 Minuteman Three missiles buried in the countryside around Minot Air Force Base?
That question is being answered this week - both locally and at an air base in California.
Jim Olson reports on two different tests being conducted on the missiles that carry nuclear weapons as part of the nation's defense.
The silos are located over a huge area of north-central North Dakota - 150 sites from Bowbells to Turtle Lake, Westhope to New Town, Stanley to Drake.
Inside each fenced-off area is a buried tube holding a Minuteman Three missile - a rocket that can deliver nuclear bombs to targets on the other side of the globe.
But if the order comes to actually fire one or more of those missiles, would the system work?
After all, these missiles went into service when Richard Nixon was president.
Obviously, a positive answer to that question is essential - and it's why missiles under the control of Minot Air Force Base are being tested right now.
This week, several missiles were tested - right up to the point where the engine would fire and send the payload into the sky.
A Simulated Electronic Launch Minuteman - or SELM was held to test everything from the mechanics to the communications to the electronics that must function to send a missile flying.
The SELM tests men and machinery both at the base - where this nerve center monitors all of the missiles in the field, and here at Lima 1 - one of 15 Launch Control Facilities scattered around the region, each in charge of ten missile silos.
The commander of the missile squadron says the results have been good.
(Col. Chris Cruise, Missile Squadron Commander) "The test has gone extremely well."
He says getting to take the actions that would lead up to a launch is excellent training for men and women who normally are required only to monitor the weapons.
(Col. Chris Cruise, Missile Squadron Commander) "They understand the importance of the mission every day. This exercise however allows them to operate the console in a real-world environment that they don't normally get day-to-day in a procedural trainer that we normally do with a monthly training environment."
But how about the airmen who would actually have to turn the keys, launching a missile that could kill thousands of people? One of the crew members says it's a heavy responsibility that's taken very seriously.
(1Lt. Patrick Crawford, Missileer) "This job - it is a lot of pressure when you think about what we actually do out here. We provide a very important job for the country and the world. It's a job we're all prepared to do if we need to, but none of us want to see happen. "
And while the SELM was being wrapped up in North Dakota, another key test was of a Minot Air Force Base missile was being readied in California, where one of the Minuteman Three missiles from the local base is scheduled to be test fired out over the Pacific Ocean from Vandenberg Air Force Base next week.
Critical tests for a critical part of the nation's nuclear defense system. At MAFB, Jim Olson, KX News.
Base officials say the local test that ended yesterday was a complete success.