The name is legendary and it’s full of conspiracy theories.
For decades, Nevada’s Area 51 Air Force facility has served the conspirators as their source of stories that whirls around manifests that aliens and their techs prevail and are hiding behind its gates. There are some Area 51 movies that have tried to peek beyond its blunt signs warning against trespassers. Plus, even my 8 years old kid in Malaysia knows about the name Area 51!
The intense secrecy surrounding the base has made it the frequent subject of conspiracy theories and a central component of UFO folklore.
Where is it on the map?
Area 51 is located in the southern portion of Nevada in the western United States, 83 miles (134 km) north-northwest of Las Vegas. The surrounding area is a popular tourist destination, including the small town of Rachel on the “Extraterrestrial Highway”.
Well, you can find it on Google Maps. Go ahead and try – or just use this link if you’re feeling lazy. Move past Area 51 Fireworks and the Area 51 Travel Center, and you’ll see listings for the Little A’Le’Inn and The Black Mailbox. (The listing for the mailbox is odd, and not just because it’s, well, a mailbox, but because the black one was replaced with a white one, and because now it’s not even there anymore.) Zoom in and move south and you’ll see some unmarked lines—runways. That’s it. You’ve located the base.
Switch over to satellite view (the button’s on the lower left) and you’ll see Area 51 in all its glory: Groom Lake (the big white patch, a dry lake bed), the hugely long runways used for aircraft (?) testing, along with the base hangars and buildings. Try zooming way in! You can actually make out vehicles.
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Once upon a time, satellites were strictly prohibited from photographing the base (although that didn’t stop astronauts in the space station Skylab from snapping a shot). Now, the government has given up; as you can plainly see, even Google has photos.
Want the GPS coordinates of the base? We’ve got ’em: 37° 14′ N, 115° 148′ W. Feel free to plug those into your GPS unit but don’t be tempted to cross the base border.
What’s in a name?
Area 51 is just the sort of bureaucratic-military jargon that sounds like the basis for a vast conspiracy. Where, after all, are Areas 1 through 50? In fact, the name comes from designations on Nevada Test Site maps from the 1950s. Area 51 is part of the Nevada Test Site (now known as the Nevada National Security Site), a remote area of desert 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of Las Vegas. It was the Nevada Test Site that hosted hundreds of nuclear weapons tests starting in the 1950s, almost 100 of which were above ground.
Area 51’s existence wasn’t officially acknowledged by the US Government until 2013
Although it was chosen as a site to test aircraft in 1955, the government did not acknowledge that Area 51 even existed until 2013. According to CNN, maps and other documents created by the CIA have released thanks to Jeffrey T. Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archives, who was granted access to the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, the papers made no mention of little green men running around the facility.
Actual nuclear tests apparently aren’t scary enough. Area 51’s major claim to fame is as an alleged extraterrestrial technology research site. It all started in July 1947, when the Roswell Daily Record’s front-page headline screamed: “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer On Ranch in Roswell Region.” The U.S. military claimed the unidentified crashing object was just a weather balloon; conspiracy theorists insisted it was an alien spacecraft which was then taken from the Roswell ranch property to Area 51 for reverse-engineering. And perhaps there was a large-eyed alien “gray” inside? In September 1994, the Air Force released a report with a fuller story: The wreckage was indeed a balloon, but not an ordinary weather balloon. Instead, it was an atomic monitoring balloon meant to detect far-off nuclear testing blasts.
Delayed UFO claims
Despite the headline-making balloon crash in 1947, Area 51 didn’t really get its extraterrestrial reputation until the late 1980s, when a man named Robert Lazar told a Las Vegas television station that he worked at a mysterious site called S-4 near Area 51 to reverse-engineer crashed flying saucers. This caused quite a stir, but Lazar was later found to have fabricated his employment not only on the base, but his entire background: He claims to have graduated from MIT and Caltech but actually went to neither, and he also claims to have worked for Los Alamos National Laboratory, which also turned out to be false.
The moon landing was supposedly faked at Area 51
One of the bigger conspiracy theories out there not only questions the authenticity of the 1969 moon landing but claims it was staged at Area 51. Bill Kaysing—author of We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle—believes NASA officials filmed the fake landing within the base, brainwashed the astronauts, and used lunar meteorites picked up in Antarctica as a stand-in for moon rocks.
The first UFO ‘sightings’ in Area 51 were easily explained
In its early years, Area 51 was used to test U-2 planes—which flew at altitudes higher than 60,000 feet—in an area far from civilians and spies. During these tests, pilots flying commercial aircraft at 10,000 to 20,000 feet would detect the planes far above them, completely in the dark about the government’s project. Hence sightings of unidentified objects were reported when in reality it was a military plane … unless that’s what they want you to think.
Area 51 is on the map, but good luck actually getting there. It’s a restricted area, with armed guards patrolling the fences around the parameter. They’re colloquially known as “Camo dudes” because that’s what they wear when on the job. Given the testing of stealth aircraft on the site, this kind of secrecy isn’t very surprising. However, the guards may be the ones who are most affected by the military silence surrounding the site. Guards have sought compensation for breathing problems they say they’ve experienced since being exposed to toxic chemicals from the burning of the coatings meant to shield aircraft from radar.
Air Force affiliation
Officially, Area 51 is part of the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), which is affiliated with Nellis Air Force Base. According to the Air Force, the NTTR is the largest combined air and ground space for peacetime military operations in any democracy in the world. It covers a total of 2.9 million acres (1.2 million hectares) and 5,000 square miles (12,950 square km) of restricted airspace.
What’s it really for?
The Nevada Test and Training Range is used to train aircraft crews in combat scenarios and for live munitions training, according to the Air Force, as well as operational testing. In the past, the site has been used to test and develop new helicopters, airplanes, unmanned drones, and other top-secret military technologies. One of these was the famous U-2 spy plane, an ultra-high altitude aircraft used for reconnaissance. This plane’s very first flight took place at Area 51 (officially known as Groom Lake) in August 1955.
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Area 51 today
After the U-2 plane program, Area 51 remained a testing ground for other spy planes, such as the Lockheed A-12 Oxcart and the D-21 Tagboard, according to NBC News. Today, the site is still used. Google Earth views show neatly kept runways and a small, orderly cluster of buildings, and in some views, there is evidence of new construction over the past decade.
This is it
For one thing: they probably have cool spaceships. For another, the extraterrestrials are said to have arrived in 1947, so if they were going to eat us, they likely would have done so by now. Finally, answer this question: What’s more interesting, a world with aliens or a world without them?
But personally, I do love watching Alien Covenant and also Alienware laptop by Dell.
Featured Image Origin: Getty Images