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NRRI building’s Cold War history to be highlighted again

After a well-attended, well-received event last year, the Natural Resources Research Institute in Hermantown is planning another talk on its building's past as a secretive Cold War defense outpost.

SAGE building
A photo of the Natural Resources Research Institute building in Hermantown during its previous use as a Cold War defense outpost -- a four-story, windowless blockhouse built to withstand the nearby blast of a nuclear weapon. (News Tribune file photo)

After a well-attended, well-received event last year, the Natural Resources Research Institute in Hermantown is planning another talk on its building’s past as a secretive Cold War defense outpost.
The NRRI building, along U.S. Highway 53, once was a Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) site. SAGE was a system that gave the U.S. the ability to track a possible Soviet invasion of bomber-style aircraft.
The presentation, “SAGE, Duluth and the Cold War,” is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday in the third floor commons area at NRRI, 5013 Miller Trunk Highway. From Highway 53, turn on Cirrus Drive and approach the building from the back.
Retired Brig. Gen. Ray Klosowski, who commanded Duluth's 148th Fighter Wing and then the Minnesota Air National Guard, will give a 40-minute talk, followed by time for questions and a tour of the NRRI building. The event is open to the public.
The building once was a first-strike target for the Soviet Union, and was built to withstand anything other than a direct hit from a nuclear warhead. Now housing offices and laboratories of NRRI, a branch of the University of Minnesota Duluth, the structure has been modified over the years and offers only a few clues to its original purpose.
In its day as a SAGE site, it housed computers that required an entire floor of air conditioners to keep the massive system cool and humming. One of the powerful but temperamental computers was constantly operating while the other sat on standby.
The computers functioned in conjunction with radar lines that served as trip wires set up to span North America from east to west. A single computer featured 23 consoles, each one manned by an officer and a technician who controlled the intercepting aircraft that sat on alert at the nearby base housing the Minnesota Air National Guard's 148th Fighter Wing, and the now-defunct U.S. Air Force 11th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron.

Read more history of the building here .

Related Topics: HERMANTOWN
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The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.