In July of 1947, a newspaper declares that a flying saucer crashed in the little ranch land of Roswell, New Mexico.
The next day, the military publicly dismisses this as nothing more than a weather balloon. Not surprisingly, this was not a widely believed explanation. Not by a long shot. Pictures start to circulate of a small, metallic craft lying on its side. The words “government cover-up” and “alien conspiracy” start to circulate. Yet, despite all the scrutiny, distrust and disbelief the government continued to hold their ground.
So, amid nation-wide speculation and intrigue, the mystery of Area 51 was born.
Ah Area 51. The center of suspicion. The scene for so many science fiction stories. The epicenter of intrigue. The ultimate military mystery, hidden in our nation’s unassuming Midwest. But for as much fame and fiction surrounds the enigmatic government institution, how much is real, and how much is imagined?
According to one of my favorite TV shows, the truth is out there. As of August 2013, anyway.
Until last month, the government hadn’t been, ahem, forthcoming, about their oh-so secret military location. Speculation surrounded the desert facility, with more intriguing fiction being written about the facility than truth.
So what is the truth, you ask? Was Area 51 the landing site for an authentic alien spacecraft? Was the government keeping it under wraps this whole time? Were they doing alien autopsies just like Brent Spiner’s character in Independence Day?
According to the world’s most anticipated declassified 400+ page document…no.
So here’s what you need to know:
1. Most of this stuff is old news. By that I mean, this document has had quite a bit of it declassified for quite a while. The recent development that has caught international attention is this:
This is a map that shows Area 51…LABELED Area 51. For those of you who don’t know, this is the big deal. The government hasn’t actually come out and said, “Yeah this place was real” before…but this map changes that. It shows that the military base that was used to test and develop top-secret U.S. military projects was a real place.
And speaking of those projects…
2. Some of the other declassified stuff in the document discussed some of the programs at the ominous facility (that once had to be redacted from every document). For example, one of the very first iterations of a remotely piloted aircraft was flown out of Area 51 in the 1950s. It reportedly looked like an eagle and was meant to spy on Soviet activity in the Caspian Sea.
This, arguably, was why the idea of unidentified flying object rumors circulated (lol) for so long. A lot of these aircraft testing programs flew out of Area 51. U-2 planes were tested there, and were used during the Cold War for reconnaissance missions.
These aren’t like the average passenger plane flying overhead. They fly higher. They have more of a vertical takeoff. They look very different than the aircraft people knew and recognized in the sky. Seeing a slick spy plane instead of a bulky 747 – especially in the 1950s – was bound to waggle some eyebrows. Also the military wasn’t really open about discussing their top secret aircraft (and with good reason). There is a likely chance that the UFOs people were reporting were actually just a travelling U-2 in the desert sky.
So if it’s really not so exciting, why all the hullaballoo?
I think the name Area 51 precedes itself. Aside from being one of my all-time favorite arcade cabinet games ever (and a high five to all who agree) it was just cool to think that maybe, just maybe, we did get a visitor from beyond our Solar System. That life’s questions could be answered, or maybe already were. That we really aren’t alone in the universe.
So while the declassification of Area 51 documentation might not be the grand unveiling everyone thought, it still illustrates a fundamental truth: we’re still wondering about extraterrestrial life, the universe and everything.
Which means the answers are still out there, just waiting to be discovered.
Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science. She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for technology in the military.
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