Admit it. When you hear the name “Area 51,” you immediately start thinking about aliens, UFOs, conspiracy theories, and the like. But, that’s all just a myth, right… or is it? Here are ten fascinating facts about Area 51.
10. The Name Comes from a Map
The name “Area 51” actually came from designations on maps from the 1950s. Area 51 is part of the Nevada National Security Site, formerly known as the Nevada Test Site. The Nevada National Security Site is a remote area of desert 65 miles north of Las Vegas.
-Area 51 has also been referred to as Groom Lake (the name of the lake the test site was built around), Paradise Ranch (a lead engineer of the U-2 project gave it this nickname in order to entice workers to come), Watertown (the official name of the test site, given in 1956), and Dreamland (after an Edgar Allan Poe poem of the same name).
-Speaking of maps, did you know that Area 51 is now visible on Google Maps? Until recently, satellite imagery of the test site was censored.
9. Visitors are Not Allowed
Area 51 is a restricted area. In fact, armed guards known as “Camo dudes” patrol the perimeter. The site is under 24-hour surveillance, but you can drive up to the front and back gates. Just don’t trespass. You could end up paying up to a $1,000 fine, spending six months in prison, or both!
-Author and U-2 historian Chris Pocock, and aerospace historian and author Peter Merlin, who’s been researching Area 51 for more than thirty years, told Popular Mechanics that they’ve both been closely watched or even intimidated by guards when trying to get a peek into Area 51.
-Some of the guards have experienced respiratory problems due to exposure to toxic chemicals at the site.
8. Its Existence was Formally Acknowledged in 2013
In 2013, the CIA approved the release of declassified documents detailing the history of its spy plane development (namely, the U-2 and OXCART programs). The release of these documents marked the first time the government formally acknowledged the existence of the test site.
FUN FACT: The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that was submitted eight years earlier by American intelligence historian Jeffrey T. Richelson of the George Washington University National Security Archive. The purpose of the FOIA is to ensure a nation of informed citizens, which is “vital to the functioning of a democratic society,” FOIA.gov notes.
7. It’s Affiliated with the Air Force
Area 51 is an active military installation administered by Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. It is also part of the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). The NTTR is used by Nellis Air Force Base to conduct testing tactics development and provide advanced training supporting national interests. The NTTR also hosts a number of U.S. Air Force Weapons School exercises each year. In the past, the site has been used to test and develop new aircraft, including the famous U-2 spy plane, a high-altitude plane used for reconnaissance operations.
FUN FACT: The U-2 spy plane is still flying combat missions.
6. The Government Has Been Studying UFOs There
After decades of denying the existence of Area 51 or having any interest in aliens, the government finally admitted to studying UFOs, the Washington Post said last December. According to the newspaper, the Pentagon confirmed it had funded a $22 million UFO research program called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program. The program lasted from 2007 to 2012. But, according to the History Channel, this was not the first government UFO study. Officials studies “began in the 1940s with Project Sign providing some of the most credible videos of aerial phenomenon to date,” the channel said on its website. The project, which was the United States Air Force’s UFO investigation program, was re-designated as Project Grudge in 1949 and then finally Project Blue Book from 1952 to 1969. The project was terminated on December 17, 1969 and its records were retired to the custody of the National Archives.
-Did you know that you can get a peek at the findings of the Blue Book program? The project has been declassified and the records can be examined in the research room at the National Archives.
-In 1996, Nevada renamed Route 375 as the “Extraterrestrial Highway.”
5. Employees Fly In and Out of Work
Area 51 employees must fly in and out of work via a restricted terminal at McCarran International Airport. “Janet Airlines” (located in Las Vegas) flies employees on one of several unmarked planes allowed in Area 51’s airspace.
-Janet Airlines recently posted a job ad seeking cabin crew on the website of private defense contractor AECOM. In addition to qualifying for top secret government security clearance, the job also required candidates to be able to deal with possible bomb threats and hijackings.
-Janet stands for “Just Another Non-Existent Terminal.”
-The existence of the top secret airline was acknowledged publicly for the first time in 2005.
4. Area 51 Alien Conspiracies Gained Ground in the Late 1980s
In 1989, a man named Robert Lazar told a Las Vegas television reporter that he worked on extraterrestrial technology at Area 51. It was later determined that Lazar made up the whole story, including not only his employment at the military installation, but also his college background. He claimed he graduated from Caltech and MIT, which was untrue. He also claimed to have worked for Los Alamos National Laboratory, but he made up that story as well.
FUN FACT: Many people have reported seeing UFOs in or near Area 51. In fact, Project Blue Book compiled reports of more than 12,000 sightings or events, each of which was ultimately classified as either “identified” or “unidentified.” According to the CIA, test flights of U-2 and subsequent military aircraft account for the sightings in the area.
3. Conspiracy Theorists Think the Moon Landing was Staged There
In his book, We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle, Bill Kaysing argues that the astronauts never landed on the moon and that the footage of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on its surface was filmed at Area 51.
According to CNN, “Kaysing theorized NASA sent the Apollo 11 astronauts up in a rocket until it was out of sight, then transferred the lunar capsule and its three passengers to a military cargo plane that dropped the capsule eight days later in the Pacific, where it was recovered. In the meantime, he believed, NASA officials filmed the moon landing at Area 51… and brainwashed the astronauts to ensure their cooperation.” He also believed that the moon rocks the astronauts brought back were actually lunar meteorites from Antarctica.
FUN FACT: National Geographic says that there might be some truth to Kaysing’s conspiracy theory, citing the fact that various space equipment was tested by NASA astronauts Area 51.
2. Astronauts Accidentally Took a Photo of Area 51 in the 1970s
NASA astronauts accidentally snapped a photo of Area 51 back in 1974–even though they were told not to. Classified CIA memos said that making the photo public “would almost certainly provide strong stimulus for media questioning and the potential near-term revelation of the missions of the installation,” an article on the Reader’s Digest website said. “In the end, NASA got its way… and the photo went in the Skylab collection without any public outcry,” the article also said.
NOTEWORTHY FACT: The Soviet Union already had its own satellite images of Area 51.
1. It’s Still in Use
Area 51 is still very much in use today, but no one really knows for sure what’s going on there. Pocock told Popular Mechanics that it’s possible they’re developing lasers, classified aircraft, directed energy weapons, and highly sophisticated forms of radio communication. Merlin guesses that they’re working on advanced weapons, electronic warfare systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, and improved stealth technology.
Whatever it is they’re working on, people are always going to be curious. “At the most basic level, anytime you have something secret or forbidden, it’s human nature,” Merlin told Popular Mechanics. “You want to find out what it is.”
So, there you have it. These are just a few facts about Area 51. If you have any additional information to add, please feel free to do so below. Thanks for reading!