If you haven’t been living under a rock for several decades, you’ve likely heard of Star Wars. Even if you don’t know too much about the space opera, there’s also a likely chance you’ve seen a snowy planet with giant robots and military bases. This is known as Hoth, and while the planet might be fake, there’s actually a place here on Earth that very much feels like this fictional landmark. Known as Camp Century, this Cold War-era military installation calls Greenland home and was built underneath the tundra in an attempt to have a base capable of surviving a Soviet nuclear strike.
Camp Century Put the “Cold” in Cold War
Located in the northwest portion of Greenland, Camp Century was a research facility and military installation built into the tundra for the U.S. military. You could find Camp Century in Greenland over 100 miles inland from the secretive Thule Air Base.
Construction on the project began in 1959 as a part of Project Iceworm. Camp Century was completed in 1960 and would remain active until 1967.
A portable nuclear reactor shared a home with hundreds of scientists and military members who operated within the base.
Getting service personnel and materials to create the base was far from easy. Not only was the harsh distance between its nearest contact over 100 miles in tough terrain, but many operations in Greenland during this time were done in secret.
Convoys delivering supplies or personnel would take around 70 hours to complete their trek reaching lightning-fast speeds of 2 mph using large tracked vehicles known as “heavy swings.” That speed is not a typo.
Temperatures reaching -70°F and 24 hours of sunlight were the norms. The largest trench built for the base, known as “Main Street,” was over 1,000 feet long. To reinforce the trenches, they were covered with steel arches and snow.
Prefab buildings housed supplies to adjust for shifting snow. There were escape hatches, a freshwater well, and an impressive infrastructure set up so that those enduring such conditions could survive and thrive during their mission.
Camp Century in Project Iceworm was operated by the Army’s Polar Research and Development Center. Despite its somewhat secretive location, unlike Thule Air Base, which was discovered by accident, National Geographic and the New York Times were eventually invited.
There was even a contest for Boy Scouts from both America and Denmark to visit the installation.
What Is Project Iceworm?
The U.S. Army’s Project Iceworm was a top-secret Cold War program that aimed to create an underground network of nuclear missile launchers. Ultimately, the goal was to put medium-range ballistic missiles under ice and close enough to strike the Soviet Union.
Project Iceworm was kept a secret even from Denmark. Camp Century was created to see how working underneath ice could be accomplished. In the end, ice sheet conditions would cause the project to cease operations, as it was deemed unviable.
Is Camp Century in Greenland Still Active?
No, while Camp Century operated for several years, it was never successful enough to continue long-term. In 1967, the base was disbanded.
The top-secret Cold War military project that found perfectly preserved fossil plants under Greenland ice was a bit out-of-sight, out-of-mind until 2017. But now, there are renewed concerns about the environmental impact it might have.
It’s believed that 47,000 gallons of radioactive waste remain lying underneath the ice, and despite some scientists believing climate change could expose the materials sooner rather than later, the government seems to believe it to be a non-issue until Greenland’s permafrost is lost in 2100.
Suggested read: Inside Diego Garcia: The Most Mysterious U.S. Naval Base