Detailed images of Area 51
released Sunday may not show evidence of little green men, but they do
show that the super-secret Air Force base has grown significantly over
"I want to see flying saucers
as much as anyone," said Federation of American Scientist’s John Pike,
who ordered the 1-meter (3.2-foot) images, the most detailed to date, from
Thorton, Colorado-company Space Imaging. Instead, the photos -- captured
over the past few months -- show that the area has significantly expanded
since the first images were snapped of the infamous site over 30 years
"It’s interesting to contemplate
what is going on there. It seems as though there is tons of money going
in there and nothing is going out," he said.
In particular, the photos
show a runway
that is about 3,800 meters (2.36 miles), or about 42 football fields, long.
That’s even longer than the runways for the world’s largest commercial
The images also show a burgeoning
growth in the area, including a complete rebuilding and expansion in size
of the housing
complex for base personnel over the past 30 years. In addition, there
are new support facilities.
A geometrically-shaped munitions
storage area is also identified.
four aircraft hangars are visible off the runway. Conspiracy theorists
have long believed that one of these hangars, dubbed Hangar 18, is the
holding area for the alien bodies and captured alien technology taken from
These high-resolution images,
captured by Space Imaging’s IKONOS satellite on April 2, were released
less than a week after Raleigh, North Carolina-based Aerial Images unfolded
its series of 6.6-foot (2-meter) photos of the mysteriously secretive area
over the Web, crashing the site for days.
Though the public’s ravenous
appetite for these images was made obvious this past week, Pike’s purpose
for getting these photos was different.
Pike said the request was
a test to see how long it would take to gain access to these images and
how they may be used by military agencies around the world.
"This is an interesting case
study that enables us to explore in practical rather than theoretical terms
just what is this 'Brave New World' we’ve entered into."
This so-called 3.3-foot (1-meter)
resolution technology once was available only to intelligence agencies
through their own spy satellites. But it has been estimated that by the
year 2003, at least 11 companies in five countries will have high-resolution,
remote-sensing cameras in orbit.
That sort of commercial technology
in space worries government officials because they believe such detailed
imagery could encourage industrial espionage, terrorism or more cross-border
military attacks in the developing world.
But Pike seemed unfazed by
the impact of this imagery on national security.
Because it took 2 months
to get the images, he said the technology would only be useful during peacetime
for monitoring specific regions instead of during wartime, when the military
may need to target a strategic area.
"The war may already be over
before you get your picture," Pike said.
Space Imaging’s Mark Brender
argued that obtaining images doesn’t always take so long. "We can turn
stuff around in 24 hours," he said. When twin tornadoes touched down in
Texas on March 28, for example, Brender says that within a few hours they
were evaluating the images and ready to release them to the public within
"We can produce images very
shortly for natural disasters and crisis," he said.
Area 51 -- 75 miles (121
kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas – occupies about 150 square miles (390
square kilometers) of a dried up lakebed in the Great Basin Desert, Nevada.
It was named after the grid it occupies on an old Nevada map and came into
existence in 1955 when aerospace company Lockheed Martin landed there to
test the U 2, a high-altitude surveillance plane.
The top-secret base later
became a proving ground for several generations of high-tech prototypes,
including the F 117-A Stealth fighter.
The shroud of secrecy thickened
once the Air Force bought up about 9,000 acres of land around the base
to prevent the public from getting too close. In August 1994, an Air Force
official admitted the base existed, saying the Air Force has "facilities
within the complex near the dry lakebed of Groom Lake…used for testing,
training technologies, operations and systems critical to the effectiveness
of U.S. military forces."
Ufologists have long believed
that unidentified flying objects from other planets are entrenched in underground
bases in the region and insist alien autopsies are being conducted there.
But, conventional wisdom says the base is likely a center for super-secret
operations dealing with sophisticated military aircraft.
Did Pike ever believe that
his request would produce evidence of the existence of aliens?
"No! I think all that [extraterrestrial]
stuff is being done out of that CIA facility in Ohio," he said laughing.