There’s no telling what you’ll find on eBay—like an old keyboard and trackball originally dedicated to firing off nuclear missiles.
As detailed Tuesday by YouTube channel Pointless Tinkering, an enthusiast bought the keyboard off eBay simply because it “looked awesome” and had “some interesting buttons” saying things like “TRANSMIT,” “ABORT,” and “INITIATE.”
The keyboard and trackball were part of a larger control system for a nuclear missile silo command center. More specifically, the peripherals were part of a console used to launch Minuteman III missiles in the ’80s as part of the US Air Force’s Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting (REACT) program.
As explained by the Cold War history site Nuclear Companion and cited by Pointless Tinkering, “There is one stunning difference between REACT and the old Command Data Buffer (CDB). While the CDB had two separated workstations, in REACT, both crew are side by side. In other words, they operate in a single console with keyboard and trackball included.”
The keyboard has reed switches, which use magnets to actuate. Other parts include an Intel MD82510/B chip as a serial controller, an Intel 8051-family microcontroller, and RS422 communication chips.
After grabbing the keyboard and trackball from eBay and learning about their history, the enthusiast went to work, armed with tools like an Arduino Pro Micro (which eventually got fried) and a programmer for the microcontroller, which he acquired through Dromeda Research. He also repaired the trackball that stopped working after purchase and got both the keyboard and trackball to work with modern computers with a USB port.
“All that reverse engineering led to me creating this little interface, which has the Arduino Micro, which can emulate a mouse and a keyboard,” the owner said. There’s even custom software for the keyboard.
Of course, there’s no RGB lighting, but some keys actually do have LEDs.
Pointless Tinkering also highlighted a “BIT key” that seems to reset the keyboard.
According to the video, both the keyboard and trackball work like regular PC peripherals, save for the Ctrl, Alt, and down keys, making the Nuclear Keyboard, as the video dubbed it, “very hard to use as a normal, daily driver keyboard.”
Pointless Tinkering said he would try to address any issues that pop up in a follow-up video. Despite its flaws, the Nuclear Keyboard is still a fascinating testament to the power of old tech and fresh minds.