Less than 100 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada is the most famous secret military installation on the planet. Rumors swirl around this base, much like the mysterious aircraft that twist and turn in the skies overhead. Although it's known by many names, most people call it by the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) designation: Area 51.
There are several theories about how Area 51 got its name. The most popular is that the facility borders the Nevada Test Site (NTS). The AEC used the NTS as testing grounds for nuclear bombs. The NTS is mapped as a grid of squares that are numbered from one to 30 (with a few omissions). Area 51, while not part of this grid, borders Area 15. Many say the site got the name Area 51 by transposing the 1 and 5 of its neighbor. Another popular theory is that the number 51 was chosen because it was not likely to be used as part of the NTS system in the future (in case the NTS expanded later on).
The first documented use of the name Area 51 comes from a film made by the company Lockheed Martin. There are also declassified documents from the 1960s and 1970s that refer to a facility called Area 51. Today, officials refer to the facility as an operating location near Groom Lake when speaking to the public -- all official names for the site appear to be classified, although it was officially acknowledged in CIA documents released through the Freedom of Information Act in 2013.
The name alone inspires thoughts of government conspiracies, secret "black" aircraft and alien technologies. Facts, myths and legends weave together in such a way that it can become difficult to separate reality from fiction. What exactly goes on in this installation? Why did the government alternatively acknowledge and deny its existence until the 1990s? Why is the airspace over it so restricted that even military aircraft are forbidden from flying through it? And, what does it have to do with Roswell, New Mexico?
Each question seems to have a million different answers. Some answers are plausible, while others stretch credulity so far that if someone said it out loud, you might feel the urge to back away from them slowly. In this article, we'll look at the facts as far as anyone outside of the facility can determine them and examine the more popular theories about Area 51.