Area 51 has long been synonymous with UFOs. You might think you know all about it thanks to decades of chatter, but the truth is, you probably don't know nearly as much as you thought. The real story in this case is even stranger than fiction, so here are seven things you never knew about Area 51.
It Is Not the Only 'Area'
If you're like me, you have probably asked yourself "Why is it called Area 51? Are there more 'Areas' with other secrets attached?" The answer to this is yes. Area 51 was once just a generic name assigned to this section of the Nevada Test Site (which is now referred to as the Nevada National Security Site), located in the open desert. There are other numbered areas, but none of them have gained the notoriety of Area 51 which, even before the rumored UFO crash, was the site where nuclear weapons were tested.
Area 51 Was Not Always so Crazy
Being a military testing site, Area 51 was much like an army camp. It wasn't all about UFOs and alien dissections — it was just a place where scientists and other personnel lived while they worked on various government projects. The only thing out of the ordinary was maybe the menu, which was surprisingly classy. Once a week workers had a steak night, and sometimes they even got to eat oysters and lobsters. For entertainment, residents played tennis on a cement court and had a little bowling alley to keep them busy, as they had no television and radio signals were hard to come by in a desert surrounded by mountains.
The CIA Didn't Acknowledge Its Existence Until 2013
While people have been talking about Area 51 since the 1940s, it was never officially acknowledged by the CIA until 2013. While the CIA does not claim that it is a site devoted to dismantling alien spacecraft or doing autopsies on little gray men from other planets, it does admit that it is a U.S. airbase where spy planes such as those belonging to the U-2 program have been tested. This all came to light when the CIA declassified records about their activities during the Cold War as a part of the Freedom of Information Act.
At First, the Famous Weather Balloon-Crash Was Just a Weather Balloon Crash...
In 1947, Area 51 became famous when a "weather balloon" crashed on a Roswell ranch and was taken to Area 51 for testing. While the rancher claimed that it was a flying saucer based on debris he had found, the government rushed to say that it was just a weather balloon, and not to worry about it. While this caused a big stir in the area, the site didn't gain international fame until it became associated with extraterrestrials in the 1980s. A man named Robert Lazar went to the media, claiming he had worked at a secretive site called S-4, close to Area 51, and had been tasked with reverse-engineering flying saucers that had crashed to Earth. As it turned out, this man was lying about everything from his job to his education, but nevertheless his story stuck and still fuels conspiracy theories to this day.
... Or Maybe It Wasn't
You know how I just said that Roswell's flying saucer was really a weather balloon? Well, that's not exactly the full story. While the U.S. government initially claimed that the UFO in question was a weather balloon, this turned out to be a cover-up. In reality, the debris that the rancher found was not from a weather balloon, but from another type of balloon that was a part of an experiment with the codename Project Mogul. The purpose of this experiment was to see if the U.S. government could pick up sound waves in the upper atmosphere from Russian bomb tests via microphones attached to balloons. Even if this is the real truth, the initial cover-up caused many people to doubt that what happened at Roswell could be explained away so easily, and to wonder just what else the government was hiding.
Area 51 Is the Hub of More Than One Conspiracy
As if aliens weren't sensational enough, Area 51 is also the place where conspiracy theorists believe the moon landing was staged. Bill Kaysing, a conspiracy theorist himself and author of the 1974 book We Never Went to the Moon: America's Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle, posits that the footage of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon was actually footage of them walking around Area 51. In all fairness, there were testing sites near Area 51 that did test space equipment, but you can't really argue with the 842 pounds of moon rock the astronauts brought back to Earth with them. Moon rock is hard to come by in the desert.
Even the Government Isn't Convinced That There Were No Aliens
If you are not a believer, it is easy to say that the UFO sightings that have been reported over time are all either misunderstandings or hoaxes. Even those who do believe in aliens will be willing to admit that a lot of UFO sightings are fake. But it might surprise you to learn that while 90% of UFOs can be attributed to various terrestrial aircraft, 10% have been classified as "incredible reports from credible observers." In 1952, after first denying that UFOs were a real possibility, the CIA announced that every single sighting should be investigated, because "there is a remote possibility that they may be interplanetary aircraft." So maybe we shouldn't be so quick to deny reports of aliens. The truth is out there, and it might find us soon enough.