Today is the sixty-fifth anniversary of the reported crash of an UFO at Roswell, New Mexico. As is often the case, your Lofty duo takes its inspiration from the events that surround us, from the larger world that our lives move with and through. Although we’ve largely ignored Roswell and UFOs—and the oft-related Area 51—when we heard about today’s anniversary (the purported crash didn’t take place today, it’s the anniversary of the Army’s press release acknowledging the event), we decided to acknowledge the event, if only for its influence on our lives through popular culture.
When talking about whether or not to write about Roswell and Area 51, we were forthright with each other about what this might mean for the blog. Over the years, we’ve received email offers to show us photos that “prove” the existence of aliens, we’ve spoken to aerospace industry veterans who worked at Area 51, and we’ve even visited Roswell. If all of that makes us seem like true believers, we’re not.
Roswell was the logical stopping place in our trek across the country for our move to California. All right, we’ll cop to that not being 100% accurate. We did go a bit out of our way to spend the night in Roswell, and we slowed our journey by a few hours to visit Roswell’s UFO Museum. So, why would we do that? Part of the answer lies in the undeniable effect that the Roswell crash has had on our popular culture. It’s been featured heavily in television, including having an entire show—the eponymous, teen angst drama Roswell—that relied on the event’s continuously unfolding lore. Countless Hollywood films, blockbusters and B-movies alike, have borrowed part of the Roswell crash narrative for their plots. And this summer, we have found ourselves watching the X-Files again, from soup to nuts.
We imagine that most bloggers who write about aviation and space get an email or two from former Area 51 workers who have seen something or know something. In the UFO community, Area 51 is linked to the Roswell incident as the ultimate destination of the crashed-then-recovered flying disk. Furthering the mythology, Area 51 is also home to a decades-long attempt to re-engineer the alien technology that allowed the craft and its occupants to travel the implausible (to humans) distances that separate the galaxies and planets that make up our universe.
Area 51 is not a mythological place; it’s real. Area 51 was founded in the mid-1950s as an airbase for the CIA to flight test the U-2 spyplane. The base is an enormous military and civilian installation that has required the services of thousands of aerospace workers in its fifty-year history. In alignment with other of our interests, Area 51 abuts the northeast corner of the Nevada Test Site (now the Nevada National Security Site), a square-shaped slice of desert real estate larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. The Nevada Test Site, which we’ve written about HERE, HERE, and HERE, was home to almost one thousand atomic and nuclear weapons tests during the Cold War.
We’ve visited and done research at the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas more than once. In fact, part of our nerd-cred rests on the fact that we spent the first day of what unexpectedly became our honeymoon working in the archives of the National Atomic Testing Museum. Our most recent visit to the museum less than a month ago coincided with a special exhibit on—you guessed it—Area 51. The exhibit, Area 51: Myth or Reality, is heavy on reinforcing the Roswell and Area 51 legend. Each visitor is given a special pass to enter, and a video featuring a “Man in Black” warns you about security. A significant portion of the exhibit, however, focuses on Area 51’s role as a spyplane flight test center.
In this respect, the exhibit resembled a recent book that Doug read, Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base by Los Angeles-based journalist Annie Jacobsen. While we’ll leave a review for another post, Jacobsen mentions that she too did research in the archives of the National Atomic Testing Museum, and some of her human sources for the book are affiliated with the museum. So even though we haven’t become true believers in the Roswell and Area 51 stories of aliens, as bloggers who write about space exploration and science, these stories lurk in the periphery.
That’s not to say that we have enough hubris to think that the only intelligent life exists here on Earth. Even the esteemed scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains, “At the moment, life on Earth is the only known life in the universe, but compelling arguments suggest we are not alone. Indeed, nearly all astrophysicists accept the high probability of life elsewhere.” After all, there’s an awfully big universe out there, so we can’t be sure we’re that special. Even here on Earth, there’s a lot of variety among living things. The way extraterrestrial visitors have been portrayed in popular culture and common lore doesn’t capture the possibilities that might exist out there.