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The 2-Minute Guide to Area 51

Area 51 is, perhaps, the most secretive and interesting government site in the United States. Because of its secrecy, plenty of conspiracy theories have become linked to the military base. Most of them have to do with aliens and some, as Indiana Jones might suggest, include storage for important and dangerous historical artifacts. Here’s your two-minute guide to one of the most interesting places in America: Area 51.

History

The U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane
Credit: rancho_runner/ iStock

In 1955, just a few years into the Cold War, the United States was working on its latest military invention, the U-2 spy plane. While on an aerial scouting mission, CIA officer Richard Bissell saw a plot of land out in the Nevada desert that would be perfect for testing equipment and training pilots. He requested that the 38,400 acres of land be acquired by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, which later became the US Department of Energy.

The first use of Area 51 was as a radar test facility, but due to its lack of security, no experimental technology was included just yet. By 1961, security had been beefed up, and the first A-12 reconnaissance plane arrived at the base for testing. With the Cold War raging on, secrecy was of the utmost importance. In 1974, astronauts accidentally took pictures of the secret base and were forced to remove the photos from their film rolls, which were then stored in a secured vault. They weren’t messing around.

The “Roswell Incident”

In 1947, a strange object crash-landed in a rancher’s field just outside of Roswell, New Mexico. The rancher collected the fragments of metallic fabric and other pieces and, not knowing what to do with them, he took them into town for the sheriff to examine. Not knowing what to do himself, the sheriff reached out to a local military base for help. It continued up the chain of command until an intelligence officer showed up to collect the wreckage and take it to a secure facility.

During the press interview, the officer said that they had taken possession of a flying saucer. A few years later, the ultra-secretive Area 51 opened, forever linking the two in the minds of many.

In May of 1989, a reporter working for a CBS affiliate interviewed an ex-government employee named Bob Lazar. During the interview, Lazar exposed many details about the secret workings of Area 51. Most interestingly, he talked about his task of reverse engineering a downed alien spacecraft to create new technology for the military. The story brought mass public appeal and propagated the tale of aliens in Area 51 across America.

Declassified

Credit: Tristan Brynildsen/ Shutterstock

In 1994, the events that happened in Roswell in 1947 had become old enough to become declassified. The U.S. Air Force issued an official report stating that the “flying saucer” was, in fact, a classified government project being developed for high-altitude surveillance. At the time of the event, it was safer for the air force to call it a flying saucer than it was to tell the truth. Of course, people thought it was still a coverup and preferred to keep believing in Area 51’s involvement with aliens.

Since then, government officials have become much more candid about the secretive military base. Area 51 was officially recognized by the government in 2013, and in the same year, President Barack Obama used the phrase “Area 51” in public. In 2014, President Bill Clinton made jokes on a late-night talk show about how he was curious himself and even sent people to look into what went on at the base.

Today, Area 51 is still being used for the same purpose it was built for: testing experimental military equipment. It has nothing to do with aliens.

Storm Area 51

In 2019, a Facebook group was created called “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” The group was started as a joke to “see them aliens” but quickly escalated until more than 1.5 million people said they would attend. The event was scheduled for September 20, 2019. The Air Force quickly made it clear that the catchphrase “They can’t stop all of us” was incorrect. They could and would stop anyone and everyone who tried to enter the secure facility.

The months leading up to the event were tense, as nobody really knew what was going to happen. As time got closer, organizers announced that instead of storming Area 51, they would host a music festival called Alienstock to try and sway people away from storming the base, but the festival ultimately fell through.

On September 20, the Air Force stood ready at the gates of Area 51 just in case. Approximately 200 people did show up to storm the base. Many ran at the building but didn’t really mean any harm. Only two people got arrested — one for alcohol-related reasons and another for indecent exposure. Area 51 remained secure with any Earthly or alien technology locked safely inside.

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