What really goes on inside Area 51? For decades, conspiracy theorists and the general public have weighed in on what kinds of operations might be taking place at the facility in the middle of the desert in Nevada. Some claim alien experiments are conducted at the vast complex. Others insist the 1969 moon landing was a fraud, an elaborate hoax filmed on a soundstage within Area 51.

Photo Credit: Getty

But according to an aerospace historian and author who’s been researching Area 51 for over 30 years, there are no aliens or extraterrestrial aircraft behind the gates. Peter Merlin says that while what happens at Area 51 is top-secret, it’s all of earthly origins: “The forbidden aspect of Area 51 is what makes people want to know what’s there,” but, unlike what many people would like to believe, “this is earth technology. You got folks claiming it’s extraterrestrial when it’s really good old American know-how.”

Area 51’s history dates back to the early 1950s, during the height of the Cold War. The first major development to come out of the secretive base was the U-2 reconnaissance plane. The aircraft played a major role in spying on other countries, and also helped foster the myth that aliens and UFOs were abundant at Area 51.

In the mid-1950s, commercial planes only flew at altitudes between 10,000 and 20,000 feet. Unsurprisingly, top-secret U-2 planes streaking across the sky at 60,000 feet in 1955 alarmed airline pilots, and the military’s official response then was to deny that any cutting-edge U.S. aircraft were to blame for the rash of unidentified flying object sightings. This, predictably, led to pilots and the public believing that something sinister was going on at Area 51 – possibly even that alien beings were invading our airspace.

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Photo Credit: Getty/US Air Force

Since the U-2 program stopped in the late 1950s, Area 51 has been the site of many other top-secret military projects. Another aircraft historian and author, Chris Pocock, thinks that today’s Area 51 projects include lasers, advanced forms of radio communication, and highly classified aircraft.

While these experts may have peeled back some of the mystique surrounding the highly secretive, desert facility, Area 51 is still strictly off-limits to the public. We can only imagine what kind of high-flying technology is currently being dreamed up and tested at the compound.

h/t: Popular Mechanics

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