Area 51: what is inside the secret military base?

Conspiracists and party-goers on rural Nevada for ‘Storm Area 51’ event

Area 51, Nevada
The infamous military test site is around 150 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Crowds have begun descending on two small towns near the notorious Area 51 military base in Nevada as part of an online movement urging people to storm the facility.

Locals say they are “preparing for the worst” as thousands of fans of the Storm Area 51 Facebook event arrive in the area, warning that it may be a “disaster” if it goes ahead, The Independent reports.

But others are less concerned, suggesting that few people will actually attempt to illegally access the facility.

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Instead, US political news website The Hill reports that Alienstock, an extraterrestrial-themed musical festival, is reportedly scheduled to take place from Thursday to Sunday. As a result, the event is likely to be attended by party-goers rather than full-blown conspiracy theorists.

The Storm Area 51 movement began in early July, launched by the team behind a popular comedy Facebook page and a video game streamer named SmyleeKun.

On its official event Facebook page, creator Matty Roberts, a college student, wrote: “Let’s see them aliens!”. He added: “If we Naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets” - a reference to a Japanese comic character known for running with his arms stretched out backward and his head forward, Voice of America says.

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The site adds that the petition “took on a life of its own”, becoming one of Facebook’s most signed-up-for events in history with over 2.1 million people claiming they would attend.

Despite the page being shut down, Roberts disavowing the event and a subsequent warning from the US Air Force that it “would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces”, people have been arriving in the villages of Rachel and Hiko, near the base, in preparation.

Save for the odd reported UFO sighting, for the first three decades after it was constructed by the CIA in 1955, Area 51 remained under the radar. But the top-secret base entered the popular lexicon in the late 1980s, when a man claiming to have worked at the installation said that the government was examining recovered alien spacecraft.

Nevertheless, CNet notes that still nobody “really knows what the base is used for, though it’s speculated to be a location for aircraft development, and as such Area 51 has become synonymous with alien conspiracies”.

Here’s a look at the mysterious US military base and why it’s so famous:

How did interest in Area 51 begin?

Since at least the 1950s, much of the American public had been aware of a suspected US military installation in Nevada, yet the government did not acknowledge its existence, in what How Stuff Works describes as “one of the worst-kept secrets on the planet”.

It became a source of interest among conspiracy theorists in the 1950s and 60s amid growing reports of UFO sightings in the vicinity, none of which could be verified. As a result of this - and renewed interest in the famous Roswell incident in 1947 - belief began to grow that the US government was using the base to study alien spacecraft.

This speculation was fuelled by attempts by Washington to cover up the base; for decades, satellite imagery of the area was routinely deleted from government databases.

Encyclopaedia Britannica reports that the site soon “became known as Area 51, which was its designation on maps of the Atomic Energy Commission”.

Who is Bob Lazar?

In 1989, a man named Bob Lazar, who claimed to be a physicist who had worked for the US government, put Area 51 on the world map in an anonymous interview claiming that he’d studied captured alien technology at a site called S-4 near the desert test facility in Nevada.

In a documentary released late last year titled Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers, Lazar claims the FBI raided his lab. He said: “At the risk of sounding paranoid, I do always have a suspicion that someone is monitoring me – it’s something that is difficult to get out of my mind.”

Lazar’s main gripes with the US government are “consistent with the concerns he shared decades ago: that people are not just being robbed of the truth about extraterrestrial life, but of awesome technology that has the power to shift ‘the entire world economy’”, says The Daily Beast.

In the on-camera interview, Lazar describes how he recalls technology that produces and controls gravity, and uses it for propulsion. The American claims that this is a “reaction-less craft” and that instead of expelling something – like air or exhaust – it creates “a distortion in space and time in front of it, where space actually bends”.

Lazar says this technology couldn’t possibly have been human-made. “There’s another civilization in existence that’s intelligent that we know about, and we actually have artifacts from them,” he insists. “The science and the technology can change us dramatically.”

What happened in 2013?

In 2005 Jeffrey Richelson, of George Washington University’s National Security Archive, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the US government to disclose the true nature of the Area 51 base. In 2013, Washington obliged.

Documents released as part of the request revealed that the area had been selected in 1955 by the CIA as a testing site for the Lockheed U-2, a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

Lockheed worked with the CIA to develop a plane that could fly at a high altitude and spy on other nations. The U-2 was a reconnaissance spy plane designed to fly at altitudes of 70,000 feet - more than 20,000 feet higher than commercial planes - and as a result may have been mistaken for a UFO during the 1950s.

Later, after the usefulness of the U-2 was threatened by ultra-high-altitude surface-to-air missiles built by the Soviet Union, Area 51 was used to develop other aircraft including the A-12 reconnaissance plane and the stealth fighter F-117 Nighthawk, Encyclopaedia Britannica adds.

In 2018, the US government finally lifted the ban on satellite imagery on Area 51, and it is available to view on Google Maps. However, Washington still refuses to disclose any information about the research currently being conducted inside the facility, citing national security concerns.

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