For decades, Area 51 has been a topic of heavy speculation and conspiracy theories galore. No one really knows what goes on out there, though that doesn’t stop people from guessing. What we do know is that it has nothing to do with aliens (sorry, conspiracy buffs). But that doesn’t mean Area 51 isn’t a mystery — there’s still some seriously weird history surrounding it, plus plenty of covert ops that have raised more than a few eyebrows over time.
Click through to learn just exactly what we know (and don’t!) about one of the United States’s best-kept secrets.
10. It Was Originally A Cold War Air Force Base.
In 1954, Cold War tensions were mounting and the United States had to figure out how to monitor Russia from the sky without running the risk of being shot down. President Eisenhower commissioned the U-2, a high-altitude military reconnaissance aircraft, and Area 51 was cordoned off and designated top secret so the government could build and test spy planes.
9. It Used To Be Called “Paradise Ranch.”
Of course, the facility needed people to man it, and getting people to move out to a barren slice of Nevada desert isn’t an HR manager’s dream. Area 51 was thus cheekily nicknamed “Paradise Ranch” in an effort to encourage employees to take up their posts out west. What about nowadays? Read on!
8. It’s Still In Use Today… But For What, We’re Not Sure
Area 51 is definitely still active, and that activity is definitely still classified. Google Earth shows that buildings and developments are still in progress on the land, and on many occasions people have seen lights flying low over the area — the contract commuter airline that still brings passengers in from the Las Vegas airport.
7. The Government Didn’t Acknowledge It Existed Until 2013
Prior to 2013, government officials avoided any acknowledgment that Area 51 even existed. Then in 2005, a Freedom of Information Act request was filed and, a mere eight years later, the CIA finally came forward to set the record straight about the former top-secret activity that had taken place on the base. But they were clear on one thing: it might be top secret, but there’s no alien activity in Area 51.
6. It’s Not Really Called “Area 51”
…but its real names are way less exciting. Area 51 a satellite location of Edwards Air Force Base, technically called “Air Force Flight Test Center, Detachment 3.” It’s also frequently called Groom Lake or Homey Airport. The restricted airspace that corresponds to it is called Restricted Area 4808 North. But probably just stick to calling it Area 51 — everyone else does. (Including #5!)
5. Even The President Doesn’t Know What Goes On There
If you’ve ever thought you might want to become President so you could open the X-Files, think again. Information about what goes on at Area 51 is available to the President only on a need-to-know basis, so even the Commander-in-Chief doesn’t know everything that goes on out there.
4. The Area Has Certain Federal Immunities
In 1994, Bill Clinton issued a Presidential Determination that exempted Area 51 from certain environmental disclosures. This was in response to a lawsuit against the facility from contractors who had become sick and died as a result of exposure during their work on the base. The determination has to be reviewed every year, and every President since Clinton has renewed it consistently. But that’s not the only special thing Area 51’s been given…
3. Many Believe The Facility Has Its Own Internet
When you consider how much leaking and hacking goes on in 2017, it makes sense that the only way the Area 51 facility could avoid a breach would be by functioning on its own hyper-private version of the internet. It’s not confirmed, but the government certainly has the technology and a desire to keep Area 51 activity a secret.
2. There’s An Alumni Association
It’s not as organized as your alma mater, but former employees of Area 51 have their own personal community — presumably for the purpose of venting about work, since most of it was classified during the half-decade that they worked on it. They’re called Roadrunners Internationale, and you can check out their website for yourself.
1. There Are Other Area 51s
Of course, they’re not called that (that would sort of defeat the purpose of numbering them, right?) but other branches of the service as well as other countries have “dark” properties that are used to develop secret military technology. The Navy has one in the Bahamas, and Brits also speculate about what goes on in their town of Farnborough.
Are we alone out there? It’s hard to say. But we can be pretty certain that any alien activity is probably not taking place in Nevada. Area 51 is still shrouded in mystery, with enthusiasts speculating about what goes on out there — equipment testing, chemical experiments, and other CIA dark projects that the public is never meant to know about. For those seeking adventure, it’s possible to get close to and even to the borders of Area 51, but risk-takers should be aware that there’s no cell reception or GPS out there. So explore at your own risk!