The new exhibit is largely made up of the servers and machines used to create the United States’ nuclear codes from 1980 through 2019. Among the additions are a server called the DEC Alpha, an early 90s machine that generated the actual launch codes, and the MP37 machine responsible for printing the physical Sealed Authenticator System card, or “biscuit.” Each biscuit contained a long string of characters that the President, the US Strategic Command, and local nuclear operators could use to initiate and verify launch orders. US Presidents have carried a biscuit on their person at all times since the Carter administration.
The items were originally selected for display two years ago, but the museum closed to the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the same amount of time. The museum underwent renovation during its closure and reopened earlier this month. As a result, this is the first time the nation’s nuclear command equipment has officially been on display.
Beyond offering the average person a peek into one of the country’s most secretive operations, the museum’s new exhibit also serves as a display of confidence. An intelligence and international security specialist at George Mason University told The Washington Post that the exhibit suggests there have been “some dramatic improvements in the capability in what we have today,” and that “nothing’s going to be compromised by showing you something that was used all the way through 2019.” With the Russia-Ukraine war stoking fears of nuclear conflict, the exhibit serves as a reminder that the United States’ nuclear launch technology has advanced to the point that it’s not afraid to show off old systems.
Current international conflict aside, many are grateful that the US has finally updated its decades-old technology. When the Department of Defense began upgrading its nuclear command equipment in 2019, it ditched the eight-inch floppy disks involved in the system’s storage and message processing capabilities and instead opted for a “highly secure solid-state digital storage solution.” Phew.