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!)