In the early 1960s, the U.S. Air Force began searching for a remote location from which to test-fire scaled-down versions of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) to White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in Southern New Mexico. Union Carbide’s uranium milling site at Green River came to the Air Force’s attention, as it had the infrastructure and transportation connections that suited it for missile assembly and storage, and the isolation and security – as well as land mass – required for safe test launching.
The Green River Test Site (GRTS), also known as the Utah Launch Complex, was a satellite facility of WSMR. It was activated in December 1962 in support of the Air Force’s Advanced Ballistic Re-entry System (ABRES) test program. As one of three national missile range hosts WSMR provided major support in the construction and operation of the GRTS. The ABRES program was developed to study missiles’ re-entry behavior and test anti-ballistic missile defenses through the simulation of the full flight dynamics of an ICBM within the confines of the U.S. From 1964 through 1973, the Air Force fired 141 Athena missiles from the GRTS to WSMR as part of this effort and employed close to 200 people.
As the Athena program wound down, the Army added facilities at the GRTS in 1971 to support the nuclear-capable Pershing missile field artillery system firings. These facilities included a bivouac area or “tent city,” a bunker, and launch areas, and served to train U.S. and West German troops in the use of the mobile Pershing launch system. The program launched 61 missiles through 1975, when launching moved to other locations. The GRTS was a significant employer and economic driver for the Green River community for 20 years.