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Had the public known about the NERVA tests when they were going on, the tests would have been perceived as a nuclear catastrophe in the making. Which is exactly what did happen. "Los Alamos wanted a run-away reactor," "Los Alamos wanted a run-away reactor," wrote Dewar, who in addition to being an author is a longtime Atomic Energy Commission employee, "a power surge until [the reactor] exploded." Dewar explained why. "If Los Alamos had wrote Dewar, who in addition to being an author is a longtime Atomic Energy Commission employee, "a power surge until [the reactor] exploded." Dewar explained why. "If Los Alamos had data on the most devastating accident possible data on the most devastating accident possible, it could calculate other accident scenarios with confidence and take preventative measures accordingly." And so, on January 12, 1965, the nuclear rocket engine code-named Kiwi was allowed to overheat. High-speed cameras recorded the event. The temperature rose to "over 4000C until it burst, sending fuel hurtling skyward and glowing every color of the rainbow," Dewar wrote. Deadly radioactive fuel chunks as large as 148 pounds chunks as large as 148 pounds shot up into the sky. One ninety-eight-pound piece of radioactive fuel landed more than a quarter of a mile away. shot up into the sky. One ninety-eight-pound piece of radioactive fuel landed more than a quarter of a mile away.

Once the explosion subsided, a radioactive cloud rose up from the desert floor and "stabilized at 2,600 feet" where it was met by an EG&G aircraft "equipped with samplers mounted on its wings." "equipped with samplers mounted on its wings." The cloud hung in the sky and began to drift east then west. "It The cloud hung in the sky and began to drift east then west. "It blew over Los Angeles blew over Los Angeles and out to sea," Dewar explained. The full data on the EG&G radiation measurements remains cla.s.sified. and out to sea," Dewar explained. The full data on the EG&G radiation measurements remains cla.s.sified.

The test, made public as a "safety test," caused an international incident. The Soviet Union said it violated the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which of course it did. But the Atomic Energy Commission had what it wanted, "accurate data from which to base calculations," "accurate data from which to base calculations," Dewar explained, adding that "the test ended many concerns about a catastrophic incident." In particular, the Atomic Energy Commission and NASA both now knew that "in the event of such a launch pad accident [the explosion] proved death would come quickly to anyone standing 100 feet from ground zero, serious sickness and possible death at 400 feet, and an unhealthy dose at 1000 feet." Dewar explained, adding that "the test ended many concerns about a catastrophic incident." In particular, the Atomic Energy Commission and NASA both now knew that "in the event of such a launch pad accident [the explosion] proved death would come quickly to anyone standing 100 feet from ground zero, serious sickness and possible death at 400 feet, and an unhealthy dose at 1000 feet."

Because it is difficult to believe that the agencies involved did not already know this, the question remains: What data was Atomic Energy Commission really after? The man in charge of the project during this time, s.p.a.ce Nuclear Propulsion Office director Harold B. Finger, was reached for comment in 2010. "I don't recall that exact test," "I don't recall that exact test," Finger says. "It was a long time ago." Finger says. "It was a long time ago."

Five months later, in June of 1965, disaster struck, this time officially unplanned. That is when another incarnation of the nuclear rocket engine, code-named Phoebus code-named Phoebus, had been running at full power for ten minutes when "suddenly it ran out of LH2 [liquid hydrogen and] overheated in the blink of an eye," wrote Dewar. As with the planned "explosion" five months earlier, the nuclear rocket reactor first ejected large chunks of its radioactive fuel out into the open air. Then "the remainder fused together, as if hit by a giant welder," Dewar explained. Laymen would call this a meltdown. The cause of the accident was a faulty gauge on one of the liquid hydrogen tanks. One gauge read a quarter full when in reality there was nothing left inside the tank. [liquid hydrogen and] overheated in the blink of an eye," wrote Dewar. As with the planned "explosion" five months earlier, the nuclear rocket reactor first ejected large chunks of its radioactive fuel out into the open air. Then "the remainder fused together, as if hit by a giant welder," Dewar explained. Laymen would call this a meltdown. The cause of the accident was a faulty gauge on one of the liquid hydrogen tanks. One gauge read a quarter full when in reality there was nothing left inside the tank.

So radiated was the land at Jacka.s.s Flats after the Phoebus accident, even HAZMAT cleanup crews in full protective gear could not enter the area for six weeks cleanup crews in full protective gear could not enter the area for six weeks. No information is available on how the underground employees got out. Originally, Los Alamos tried to send robots into Jacka.s.s Flats to conduct the decontamination, but according to Dewar the robots were "slow and inefficient." Eventually humans were sent in, driving truck-mounted vacuum cleaners to suck up deadly contaminants. Decla.s.sified Atomic Energy Commission photographs show workers in protective gear and gas masks picking up radioactive chunks with long metal tongs long metal tongs. Like many Atomic Energy Commission officials, Dewar saw the accident as "achieving some objectives." That "while certainly unfortunate, unplanned, unwanted and unforeseen," he believed that "calling the accident 'catastrophic' mocks the meaning of the word." The cleanup process took four hundred people two months to complete.

So what happened to NERVA in the end? When Barnes worked on NERVA in 1968, the project was well advanced. But s.p.a.ce travel was on the wane. By 1970, the public's infatuation with getting a man to Mars had made an abrupt about-face. Funding dried up, and NASA projects began shutting down. "We did develop the rocket," Barnes says. "We do have the technology to send man to Mars this way. But environmentally, we could never use a nuclear-powered rocket on Earth in case it blew up on takeoff. So the NERVA was put to bed." That depends how one defines put to bed. put to bed. President Nixon canceled the program, and it President Nixon canceled the program, and it officially ended on January 5, 1973 officially ended on January 5, 1973. Several employees who worked at the NERVA facility at Jacka.s.s Flats say the nuclear rocket program came to a dramatic, cataclysmic end, one that has never before been made public. "We know the government likes to test accidents in advance," Barnes says. Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, Nevada Site Office, says no such final test no such final test ever happened. "Something like that would have been too huge of an event to have happened to 'cover up,'" Morgan says. "I've talked to people in our cla.s.sified repository. They don't have anything." ever happened. "Something like that would have been too huge of an event to have happened to 'cover up,'" Morgan says. "I've talked to people in our cla.s.sified repository. They don't have anything."

The record suggests otherwise. In studying Area 25 to determine how former Atomic Energy Commission workers and contractors with cancer may have been exposed to potentially lethal doses of radiation there, investigators for the National Inst.i.tute for Occupational Safety and Health determined that "two nuclear reactors" were in fact destroyed there. "Due to the destruction of two nuclear reactors and transport of radioactive material, the area was extensively contaminated with enriched uranium, niobium, cobalt, and cesium," the authors of the report concluded in 2008. and transport of radioactive material, the area was extensively contaminated with enriched uranium, niobium, cobalt, and cesium," the authors of the report concluded in 2008.

The full data relating to the last tests conducted on the NERVA nuclear rocket remain cla.s.sified as Restricted Data and the Department of Energy has repeatedly declined to release the doc.u.ments. Atomic Energy Commission records are "well organized and complete records are "well organized and complete but unfortunately, most are cla.s.sified or kept in secure areas that limit public access," Dewar wrote. As for the records from the s.p.a.ce Nuclear Propulsion Office, Dewar said that "many SNPO veterans believe its records were destroyed after the office was abolished in 1973" and that "in particular, the chronology file of Harold Finger, Milton Klein and David Gabriel, SNPO's directors, would [be] invaluable" in determining the complete story on NERVA. When reached for comment, Harold Finger clarified that he left the program as director in 1968. "I have no knowledge of any meltdown," Finger said, suggesting that his former deputy but unfortunately, most are cla.s.sified or kept in secure areas that limit public access," Dewar wrote. As for the records from the s.p.a.ce Nuclear Propulsion Office, Dewar said that "many SNPO veterans believe its records were destroyed after the office was abolished in 1973" and that "in particular, the chronology file of Harold Finger, Milton Klein and David Gabriel, SNPO's directors, would [be] invaluable" in determining the complete story on NERVA. When reached for comment, Harold Finger clarified that he left the program as director in 1968. "I have no knowledge of any meltdown," Finger said, suggesting that his former deputy Milton Klein might know Milton Klein might know more. "I left the program as director in 1971," Klein said, "and do not have any information about what happened to NERVA in the end." more. "I left the program as director in 1971," Klein said, "and do not have any information about what happened to NERVA in the end."

In January of 2002, as part of the Nevada Environmental Restoration Project, the National Nuclear Security Administration conducted a study regarding proposed cleanup of the contaminated land at Area 25. The report revealed that the following radioactive elements were still present radioactive elements were still present at that time: "cobalt-60 (Co-60); strontium-90 (Sr-90); yttrium-90 (Y-90); niobium-94 (Nb-94); cesium-137 (Cs-137); barium-137m (Ba-137m); europium-152, -154, and -155 (Eu-152, Eu-154, and Eu-155); uranium-234, -235, -238 (U-234, U-235, U-238); plutonium-239/240 (Pu-239/240); and americium-241 (Am-241)," and that these radioactive contaminants "may have percolated into underlying soil." at that time: "cobalt-60 (Co-60); strontium-90 (Sr-90); yttrium-90 (Y-90); niobium-94 (Nb-94); cesium-137 (Cs-137); barium-137m (Ba-137m); europium-152, -154, and -155 (Eu-152, Eu-154, and Eu-155); uranium-234, -235, -238 (U-234, U-235, U-238); plutonium-239/240 (Pu-239/240); and americium-241 (Am-241)," and that these radioactive contaminants "may have percolated into underlying soil."

Twenty-eight years after NERVA's questionable end at Jacka.s.s Flats, shortly after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the radiated land at Area 25 started to serve a new purpose Area 25 started to serve a new purpose when the Department of Homeland Security and the military began training exercises there-including how to deal with cleaning up after a terrorist attack involving a nuclear weapon. T. D. Barnes served as a consultant on several of these endeavors. when the Department of Homeland Security and the military began training exercises there-including how to deal with cleaning up after a terrorist attack involving a nuclear weapon. T. D. Barnes served as a consultant on several of these endeavors.

NNSA spokesman Darwin Morgan discussed the WMD training that goes on at the test site in a government film that plays at the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas. "It's a PhD experience for first responders," "It's a PhD experience for first responders," Morgan said of the test site, "because the site offers real radiation they can't get anywhere else." Still, the National Nuclear Security Administration declined to elaborate on how, exactly, this "real radiation" that contaminated Area 25 occurred. Morgan said of the test site, "because the site offers real radiation they can't get anywhere else." Still, the National Nuclear Security Administration declined to elaborate on how, exactly, this "real radiation" that contaminated Area 25 occurred.

Perhaps in the early 1970s, the thinking at the Atomic Energy Commission was that one day a nuclear facility could very well melt down one day a nuclear facility could very well melt down in an American city. Were this to happen, the commission could have argued, it would be a good thing to know what to expect. By 1972, the nuclear energy industry had experienced in an American city. Were this to happen, the commission could have argued, it would be a good thing to know what to expect. By 1972, the nuclear energy industry had experienced five "boom year(s)," five "boom year(s)," according to Atomic Energy Commission archives. Without any kind of regulatory arm in place, the commission had been promoting and developing according to Atomic Energy Commission archives. Without any kind of regulatory arm in place, the commission had been promoting and developing nuclear reactor "units," nuclear reactor "units," which are the fuel cores that provide energy for nuclear power plants. By the end of 1967, the commission had placed thirty units around the country. The following year, that number jumped to ninety-one, and by 1972 there were one hundred and sixty nuclear reactor units that the Atomic Energy Commission was in charge of overseeing at power plants around the nation. which are the fuel cores that provide energy for nuclear power plants. By the end of 1967, the commission had placed thirty units around the country. The following year, that number jumped to ninety-one, and by 1972 there were one hundred and sixty nuclear reactor units that the Atomic Energy Commission was in charge of overseeing at power plants around the nation.

Six years after the end of the NERVA program at Jacka.s.s Flats, the nuclear facility at Three Mile Island nearly melted down, on March 28, 1979. The nuclear reactor there experienced a partial core meltdown because of a loss of coolant. Officials were apparently stunned. "The people seemed dazed by a situation that wasn't covered in the manuals, torn between logic and standard operating procedures, indecisive in the absence of a strong executive power," read a 1980 report on the disaster prepared for the public by the newly formed Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Special Inquiry Group. Even though similar accident scenarios had been conducted at Area 25, the "executive power," which was the Atomic Energy Commission, apparently did not share the information with its partners at the power plants.

At the same time the Three Mile Island accident happened, a movie called The China Syndrome The China Syndrome was opening in theaters across the country. The movie was about a government plot to conceal an imminent nuclear meltdown disaster, with Jane Fonda playing a reporter determined to expose the plot. Although it was clear to moviegoers that the film was fictional, it had been made with great attention to technical detail. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Special Inquiry Group determined that the combination of the two events-the real and the fictional-resulted in a media firestorm. The fact that the near nuclear meltdown happened in the media glare, wrote the commissioner, was opening in theaters across the country. The movie was about a government plot to conceal an imminent nuclear meltdown disaster, with Jane Fonda playing a reporter determined to expose the plot. Although it was clear to moviegoers that the film was fictional, it had been made with great attention to technical detail. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Special Inquiry Group determined that the combination of the two events-the real and the fictional-resulted in a media firestorm. The fact that the near nuclear meltdown happened in the media glare, wrote the commissioner, "may be the best insurance that it will not reoccur." "may be the best insurance that it will not reoccur." The public's so-called ma.s.s hysteria, feared for decades by government elite, really did work in the public's interest after all. At Three Mile Island, the media firestorm and the public's response to it proved to act as a democratic "checks and balances" where the federal government had failed. The public's so-called ma.s.s hysteria, feared for decades by government elite, really did work in the public's interest after all. At Three Mile Island, the media firestorm and the public's response to it proved to act as a democratic "checks and balances" where the federal government had failed.

For as many nuclear accidents of its own making as the Atomic Energy Commission could foresee, they could not have predicted what happened on January 24, 1978, when a nuclear-powered Russian spy satellite crashed nuclear-powered Russian spy satellite crashed on North American soil, in Canada. NORAD a.n.a.lysts had been tracking Cosmos 954 since it launched, on September 18, 1977, but after three months, the movements of the spy satellite were causing NORAD ever-increasing alarm. The Russian satellite had been designed to track U.S. submarines running deep beneath the surface of the sea, and what NORAD knew about the satellite was that it was forty-six feet long and weighed 4.4 tons. To get that much payload into orbit required phenomenal power, most likely nuclear. on North American soil, in Canada. NORAD a.n.a.lysts had been tracking Cosmos 954 since it launched, on September 18, 1977, but after three months, the movements of the spy satellite were causing NORAD ever-increasing alarm. The Russian satellite had been designed to track U.S. submarines running deep beneath the surface of the sea, and what NORAD knew about the satellite was that it was forty-six feet long and weighed 4.4 tons. To get that much payload into orbit required phenomenal power, most likely nuclear.

In December of 1977, a.n.a.lysts determined that the Russian satellite was slipping out of orbit, dropping closer and closer to Earth on each ninety-minute rotation of the globe. Calculations indicated that unless the Russians could get control of their satellite, Cosmos would, in all probability, reenter the atmosphere and crash somewhere in North America within a month. President Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski pressed Moscow for information about what exactly was on board the crashing satellite. The Russians told Brzezinski that Cosmos 954 carried 110 pounds of highly enriched uranium 235.

Richard Mingus worked at the Department of Energy's emergency command center, located in Las Vegas, during the crisis. The center was in charge of controlling public information about the looming nuclear disaster, following directions from the CIA. According to a secret CIA report decla.s.sified in 1997, a decision was made not to inform the public a decision was made not to inform the public. Trying to predict the public's reaction to a nuclear satellite crash was like "playing night baseball with the lights out," "playing night baseball with the lights out," wrote CIA a.n.a.lyst Gus Weiss, because "the outcome of [Cosmos] 954 would be akin to determining the winner of a train wreck." The CIA knew exactly what would happen, and that was that "the satellite was coming down carrying a live reactor." The CIA also believed that "a sensationalized leak would disturb the public in unforeseeable ways." This information has never been made public before. wrote CIA a.n.a.lyst Gus Weiss, because "the outcome of [Cosmos] 954 would be akin to determining the winner of a train wreck." The CIA knew exactly what would happen, and that was that "the satellite was coming down carrying a live reactor." The CIA also believed that "a sensationalized leak would disturb the public in unforeseeable ways." This information has never been made public before.

"It was extremely tense," recalls Richard Mingus, who spent several days fielding calls at the emergency command center. By 1978, recalls Richard Mingus, who spent several days fielding calls at the emergency command center. By 1978, NEST NEST-Nuclear Emergency Search Team-was finally trained to handle nuclear disasters. The man in charge was Brigadier General Mahlon E. Gates, also the manager of the Nevada Test Site. According to Gates, "the nucleus for NEST-related activity was established within EG&G established within EG&G, which had responsibility for overall logistics" to the nuclear lab workers and those a.s.signed to NEST by the federal government. The team waited on standby at McCarran Airport, "ready to go the minute the thing crash-landed," Mingus says. "Our job at the emergency command center was to keep people across America from panicking." All that Brzezinski had said publicly was that America was experiencing a "s.p.a.ce age difficulty." "s.p.a.ce age difficulty." Mingus believes this was the right move. "The satellite was still pretty high up, there was no radioactive danger until it actually hit the ground. But imagine the panic if people, or say a mayor of a city, started calling for cities to evacuate based on where they thought the satellite was going to crash down on the next ninety-minute rotation?" Mingus says the feeling at the command center was that if that were to happen, it would be panic like in Mingus believes this was the right move. "The satellite was still pretty high up, there was no radioactive danger until it actually hit the ground. But imagine the panic if people, or say a mayor of a city, started calling for cities to evacuate based on where they thought the satellite was going to crash down on the next ninety-minute rotation?" Mingus says the feeling at the command center was that if that were to happen, it would be panic like in The War of the Worlds. The War of the Worlds.

When Cosmos 954 finally crashed, it hit the earth across a large swath of ice in the middle of the frozen Canadian tundra, one thousand miles north of Montana on Great Slave Lake. At McCarran Airport a fleet of unmarked NEST vans-meant to look like bakery vans but really loaded with banks of gamma- and neutron-detection equipment inside-drove into the belly of a giant C-130 transport plane and prepared to head north. NEST personnel included the usual players in the nuclear military-industrial complex: scientists and engineers from Los Alamos, Livermore, Sandia, and EG&G. but really loaded with banks of gamma- and neutron-detection equipment inside-drove into the belly of a giant C-130 transport plane and prepared to head north. NEST personnel included the usual players in the nuclear military-industrial complex: scientists and engineers from Los Alamos, Livermore, Sandia, and EG&G. Troy Wade was the lead federal official Troy Wade was the lead federal official dispatched to the crash site. Looking back, he explains, "It was the radioactive fuel we were most concerned about. If a piece comes down that weighs a ton, you can't predict how far and wide the debris, including all that fuel, will go." dispatched to the crash site. Looking back, he explains, "It was the radioactive fuel we were most concerned about. If a piece comes down that weighs a ton, you can't predict how far and wide the debris, including all that fuel, will go."

For this reason, the first order of business was detecting radiation levels from the air. Wade and the EG&G remote-sensing team loaded small aircraft EG&G remote-sensing team loaded small aircraft and helicopters into the belly of the C-130, alongside the unmarked bread vans, and headed for the Canadian tundra. As part of Operation Morning Light, NEST members scoured a fifty-by-eight-hundred-mile corridor searching for radioactive debris. "This was long before the advent of GPS. There were no mountains to navigate by," Wade says. "The pilots had no reference points. Just a lot of snow and ice out there. Temperatures of nearly fifty degrees below zero." Helping out from and helicopters into the belly of the C-130, alongside the unmarked bread vans, and headed for the Canadian tundra. As part of Operation Morning Light, NEST members scoured a fifty-by-eight-hundred-mile corridor searching for radioactive debris. "This was long before the advent of GPS. There were no mountains to navigate by," Wade says. "The pilots had no reference points. Just a lot of snow and ice out there. Temperatures of nearly fifty degrees below zero." Helping out from high above was an Air Force U-2 high above was an Air Force U-2 spy plane. spy plane.

After several long months, 90 percent of the debris from Cosmos 954 had been recovered. In the postaccident a.n.a.lysis, officials at NORAD determined that if the satellite had made one last orbit before crashing, its trajectory would have put it down somewhere on America's East Coast somewhere on America's East Coast.

CHAPTER NINETEEN.

The Lunar-Landing Conspiracy and Other Legends of Area 51 Two hundred and fifty thousand miles from the Nevada Test Site, on July 20, 1969 July 20, 1969, with less than ninety-four seconds of fuel remaining, Neil Armstrong and copilot Buzz Aldrin were facing almost certain death as they approached the Sea of Tranquillity on the moon. The autotargeting on their lunar landing module, famously called the Eagle, Eagle, was taking them down onto a football-field-size crater laden with jagged boulders. To have crash-landed there would have meant death. The autotargeting was burning precious fuel with each pa.s.sing second; the quick-thinking Neil Armstrong turned it off, took manual control of the was taking them down onto a football-field-size crater laden with jagged boulders. To have crash-landed there would have meant death. The autotargeting was burning precious fuel with each pa.s.sing second; the quick-thinking Neil Armstrong turned it off, took manual control of the Eagle, Eagle, and, as he would tell NASA officials at Mission Control in Houston, Texas, only moments later, began "flying manually over the rock field to find a reasonably good area" to land. When Armstrong finally set the and, as he would tell NASA officials at Mission Control in Houston, Texas, only moments later, began "flying manually over the rock field to find a reasonably good area" to land. When Armstrong finally set the Eagle Eagle down safely on the moon, there was a mere twenty seconds' worth of fuel left in the descent tanks. down safely on the moon, there was a mere twenty seconds' worth of fuel left in the descent tanks.

Practice makes perfect, and no doubt Armstrong's hundreds of hours flying Armstrong's hundreds of hours flying experimental aircraft like the X-15 rocket ship-in dangerous and often death-defying scenarios-helped prepare him for piloting a safe landing on the moon. As with most seminal U.S. government accomplishments, particularly those involving science, it took thousands of men working hundreds of thousands of hours inside scores of research centers and test facilities-not to mention a number of chemical rockets designed by Wernher Von Braun-to get the Apollo 11 astronauts and five additional crews (Apollos 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17) to the moon and back home. A little-known fact is that to prepare for what it would actually be like to walk around on the geology of the moon, the experimental aircraft like the X-15 rocket ship-in dangerous and often death-defying scenarios-helped prepare him for piloting a safe landing on the moon. As with most seminal U.S. government accomplishments, particularly those involving science, it took thousands of men working hundreds of thousands of hours inside scores of research centers and test facilities-not to mention a number of chemical rockets designed by Wernher Von Braun-to get the Apollo 11 astronauts and five additional crews (Apollos 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17) to the moon and back home. A little-known fact is that to prepare for what it would actually be like to walk around on the geology of the moon, the astronauts visited the Nevada Test Site astronauts visited the Nevada Test Site. There, they hiked inside several atomic craters, learning what kind of geology they might have to deal with on the lunar surface's inhospitable terrain. The Atomic Energy Commission's Ernie Williams was their guide Ernie Williams was their guide.

"I spent three days with the astronauts in Areas 7, 9, and 10 during astronaut training, several years before they went to the moon," Williams recalls. In the 1960s, astronauts had rock-star status, and Williams remembered the event like it was yesterday. "The astronauts had coveralls and wore field packs, mock-ups of the real thing, strapped on their backs. They had cameras mounted on their hats and they took turns walking up and down the subsidence craters. It was steep, rocky terrain," he explains. Williams originally worked for the Atomic Energy Commission in feeding and housing, making sure the "feed wagon" got to remote areas of the atomic bombing range. "We'd get mashed potatoes and gravy to the faraway places inside the test site," Williams says, "hot food being a key to morale." But the mult.i.talented Williams quickly became the test site's jack-of-all-trades, including astronaut guide. His other jobs included being in charge of the motor pool and helping CIA engineers drill for Area 51's first water well first water well. But for Williams, the highlight of his career was escorting the first men on the moon inside the atomic craters.

"I was with them in 1965, and again five years later when they came back," Williams recalls. This time the astronauts arrived with a lunar roving vehicle astronauts arrived with a lunar roving vehicle to test what it might be like driving on the moon. The astronauts were taken out to the Schooner crater, located on the Pahute Mesa in Area 20. "We picked them up at the Pahute airstrip and took them and the vehicle into the crater where there was pretty rough terrain," Williams explains. "Some boulders out there were ten feet tall. One of the astronauts said, 'If we encounter this kind of thing on the moon, we're not going to get very far.'" Williams recalls the astronauts learning how to fix a flat tire on the moon. "They took off a steel tire and put on a rubber one" out in the field. to test what it might be like driving on the moon. The astronauts were taken out to the Schooner crater, located on the Pahute Mesa in Area 20. "We picked them up at the Pahute airstrip and took them and the vehicle into the crater where there was pretty rough terrain," Williams explains. "Some boulders out there were ten feet tall. One of the astronauts said, 'If we encounter this kind of thing on the moon, we're not going to get very far.'" Williams recalls the astronauts learning how to fix a flat tire on the moon. "They took off a steel tire and put on a rubber one" out in the field.

The lunar roving vehicle was not a fast-moving vehicle, and the astronauts took turns driving it. "NASA had built it and had driven it in a lot of flat places," Williams explains. "But before it came to the test site and drove on the craters, the vehicle had no real experience on inhospitable terrain. The astronauts also did a lot of walking out there," Williams adds. One of the requirements of the Apollo astronauts who would be driving during moon missions was that they had to be able to walk back to the lunar module if the rover failed.

The craters Williams was talking about are subsidence craters-geologic by-products of underground bomb tests by-products of underground bomb tests. When a nuclear bomb is placed in a deep vertical shaft, as hundreds were at the test site (not to be confused with tunnel tests), the explosion vaporizes the surrounding earth and liquefies the rock. Once that molten rock cools, it solidifies at the bottom of the cavity, and the earth above it collapses, creating the crater. The gla.s.s-coated rock, giant boulders, and loose rubble that remain resemble the craters found on the moon. So similar in geology were the atomic craters to moon craters that in voice transcripts sent back during the Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 missions, astronauts twice referred to astronauts twice referred to the craters at the Nevada Test Site. During Apollo 16, John W. Young got specific. A quarter of a million miles away from Earth, while marveling at a lunar crater laden with rocks, Young asked fellow astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr., "Remember how it was up at that crater? At Schooner." He was referring to the atomic crater Ernie Williams took the astronauts to in Area 20. During Apollo 17, while looking at the Haemus Mountains, Harrison H. Schmitt can be heard talking about the Buckboard Mesa craters in Area 19. For Ernie Williams, the craters at the Nevada Test Site. During Apollo 16, John W. Young got specific. A quarter of a million miles away from Earth, while marveling at a lunar crater laden with rocks, Young asked fellow astronaut Charles M. Duke Jr., "Remember how it was up at that crater? At Schooner." He was referring to the atomic crater Ernie Williams took the astronauts to in Area 20. During Apollo 17, while looking at the Haemus Mountains, Harrison H. Schmitt can be heard talking about the Buckboard Mesa craters in Area 19. For Ernie Williams, hearing this comparison was a beautiful moment hearing this comparison was a beautiful moment. For lunar-landing conspiracy theorists, of which there are millions worldwide, the feeling was one of suspicion. For these naysayers, Schmitt's telemetry tapes, the moon photographs, the moon rocks-everything having to do with the Apollo moon missions would become grist for a number of ever-growing conspiracies that have been tied to man's journey to the moon.

Just two months after Armstrong and Aldrin returned home, a UFO-on-the-moon conspiracy was born. On September 29, 1969, in New York City, the newest installment of home, a UFO-on-the-moon conspiracy was born. On September 29, 1969, in New York City, the newest installment of National Bulletin National Bulletin magazine rolled off the printing press with a shocking headline: "Phony Transmission Failure Hides Apollo 11 Discovery. Moon Is a UFO Base," it read. The author of the article, Sam Pepper, said he'd been leaked a transcript of what NASA had allegedly edited out of the live broadcast back from the moon, namely, that there were UFOs there. Various UFO groups pressed their congressmen to take action, several of whom wrote to NASA requesting a response. "The incident... did not take place," NASA's a.s.sistant administrator for legal affairs shot back in a memo from January 1970. magazine rolled off the printing press with a shocking headline: "Phony Transmission Failure Hides Apollo 11 Discovery. Moon Is a UFO Base," it read. The author of the article, Sam Pepper, said he'd been leaked a transcript of what NASA had allegedly edited out of the live broadcast back from the moon, namely, that there were UFOs there. Various UFO groups pressed their congressmen to take action, several of whom wrote to NASA requesting a response. "The incident... did not take place," NASA's a.s.sistant administrator for legal affairs shot back in a memo from January 1970.

As time pa.s.sed the ufologists continued to write stories about the moon being a base for aliens and UFOs moon being a base for aliens and UFOs. For the most part, NASA ignored them. But then, in the midseventies, a newly famous film director named Steven Spielberg decided to make a film about aliens coming down to visit Earth. He sent NASA officials his script for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, expecting their endors.e.m.e.nt. Instead, NASA sent Spielberg an angry twenty-page letter opposing his film. "I had wanted co-operation from them," expecting their endors.e.m.e.nt. Instead, NASA sent Spielberg an angry twenty-page letter opposing his film. "I had wanted co-operation from them," Spielberg said in a 1978 interview Spielberg said in a 1978 interview, "but when they read the script they got very angry and felt that it was a film that would be dangerous. I think they mainly wrote the letter because Jaws Jaws convinced so many people around the world that there were sharks in toilets and bathtubs, not just in the oceans and rivers. They were afraid the same kind of epidemic would happen with UFOs." Fringe ufologists were one thing as far as NASA was concerned. Steven Spielberg had millions of movie fans. He was a modern-day version of Orson Welles. convinced so many people around the world that there were sharks in toilets and bathtubs, not just in the oceans and rivers. They were afraid the same kind of epidemic would happen with UFOs." Fringe ufologists were one thing as far as NASA was concerned. Steven Spielberg had millions of movie fans. He was a modern-day version of Orson Welles.

Right around the same time, another moon conspiracy theorist let his idea loose on the American public, a theory that did not involve UFOs. In 1974, a man named William Kaysing self-published a book called We Never Went to the Moon: America's Thirty-Billion-Dollar Swindle. We Never Went to the Moon: America's Thirty-Billion-Dollar Swindle. With these three questions With these three questions, Kaysing became known as the father of the lunar-landing conspiracy: How can the American flag flutter when there is no wind on the moon? How can the American flag flutter when there is no wind on the moon?Why can't the stars be seen in the moon photographs?Why is there no blast crater where Apollo's landing vehicle landed?

Kaysing, who died in 2005, often said his skepticism began when he was an a.n.a.lyst and engineer at Rocketdyne, the company that designed the Saturn rockets that allowed man to get to the moon. While watching the lunar landing live on television, he said he experienced "an intuitive feeling he experienced "an intuitive feeling that what was being shown was not real." Later, he began scrutinizing the moon-landing photographs for evidence of a hoax. Kaysing's original three questions have since planted seeds in millions upon millions of people who continue to insist that NASA did not put men on the moon. The lunar-landing conspiracy ebbs and flows in popularity, but as of 2011, it shows no signs of going away. that what was being shown was not real." Later, he began scrutinizing the moon-landing photographs for evidence of a hoax. Kaysing's original three questions have since planted seeds in millions upon millions of people who continue to insist that NASA did not put men on the moon. The lunar-landing conspiracy ebbs and flows in popularity, but as of 2011, it shows no signs of going away.

In August 2001 Kaysing was interviewed by Katie Couric on the the Today Today show show. By then, Kaysing's theory had morphed to involve Area 51. He was often quoted as saying that the Apollo landings were filmed at a movie studio there. "Area 51 is one of the most heavily guarded facilities in the United States," Kaysing said, and anyone who tried to go there "could be shot and killed without any warning. With good reason... because the moon sets are still there."

In the twenty-first century, a new generation of moon hoaxers walk in Kaysing's footsteps to expose what they say is NASA's fraud. Like the game of Whac-A-Mole, as soon as one element of the conspiracy appears to be disproven another allegation surfaces-from missing telemetry tapes to outright murder. So aggravated has America's formidable s.p.a.ce agency become over the moon hoaxers that in 2002, NASA hired aeros.p.a.ce historian Jim Oberg to write a book meant to challenge conspiracy theorists' questions and claims-now numbering hundreds-in a point-by-point reb.u.t.tal. When news of the project was leaked to the media, NASA got such bad press over it they canceled the book canceled the book.

The idea that the moon landing was faked was born at a time of high government mistrust. In 1974, for the first time in history, a U.S. president resigned. In 1975, the CIA admitted it had been running mind-control programs CIA admitted it had been running mind-control programs, a number of which involved human experiments with dangerous, illegal drugs. Then, in April, Saigon fell. The general antigovernment feeling was heightened by the fact that while government proved capable of many nefarious deeds it had been unable to win the war in Vietnam; 58,193 Americans were killed trying 58,193 Americans were killed trying.

Kaysing was also tapping into a tradition. There had been one successful Great Moon Hoax Great Moon Hoax already, over 130 years earlier, in 1835. Beginning on August 25 of that year, the already, over 130 years earlier, in 1835. Beginning on August 25 of that year, the New York Sun New York Sun published a series of six articles claiming falsely that life and civilization had been discovered on the moon. According to the newspaper story, winged humans, beavers the size of people, and unicorns were seen through a powerful telescope belonging to Sir John Herschel, the most famous astronomer at the time. Editions of the newspapers sold out, were reprinted, and sold out again. Circulation soared, and the published a series of six articles claiming falsely that life and civilization had been discovered on the moon. According to the newspaper story, winged humans, beavers the size of people, and unicorns were seen through a powerful telescope belonging to Sir John Herschel, the most famous astronomer at the time. Editions of the newspapers sold out, were reprinted, and sold out again. Circulation soared, and the New York Sun New York Sun made tremendous profits over the story, which readers believed to be true. On the subject of the public's gullibility, Edgar Allan Poe, who also wrote for the paper, said, "The story's impact reflects on the period's infatuation with progress." But the original Great Moon Hoax came and went without a conspiratorial bent because there was no government ent.i.ty to blame. It was a publicity stunt to sell papers, not perceived as a nefarious plan by a government elite to manipulate and control the common man. made tremendous profits over the story, which readers believed to be true. On the subject of the public's gullibility, Edgar Allan Poe, who also wrote for the paper, said, "The story's impact reflects on the period's infatuation with progress." But the original Great Moon Hoax came and went without a conspiratorial bent because there was no government ent.i.ty to blame. It was a publicity stunt to sell papers, not perceived as a nefarious plan by a government elite to manipulate and control the common man.

Shortly after Kaysing's book was published (it is still in print as of 2011), a 1978 Hollywood film followed along the same lines. Peter Hyams's Capricorn One Capricorn One told the story of a faked NASA landing on Mars. Even James Bond entered the act, referencing a lunar-landing conspiracy in the film told the story of a faked NASA landing on Mars. Even James Bond entered the act, referencing a lunar-landing conspiracy in the film Diamonds Are Forever. Diamonds Are Forever. From there, the moon-hoax theory remained a quiet staple among conspiracy theorists for decades, but with the rise of the Internet in the late 1990s, the moon-hoax concept resurfaced and eventually made its way into the mainstream press. In February of 2001, Fox TV aired a doc.u.mentary-style hourlong segment called From there, the moon-hoax theory remained a quiet staple among conspiracy theorists for decades, but with the rise of the Internet in the late 1990s, the moon-hoax concept resurfaced and eventually made its way into the mainstream press. In February of 2001, Fox TV aired a doc.u.mentary-style hourlong segment called Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? and the debate was rekindled around the world. This gave way to an unusual twenty-first-century moon-hoax twist. and the debate was rekindled around the world. This gave way to an unusual twenty-first-century moon-hoax twist.

In September of 2002, Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, agreed to be interviewed by Far Eastern TV. This was because "they seemed like legitimate journalists," Aldrin explains. Buzz Aldrin has the highest profile of the twelve Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon, and he regularly gives interviews. A former fighter pilot, Aldrin flew sixty-six combat missions and shot down two MiG-15s in the Korean War. He is also an MIT-trained physicist, which affords him extra fluency when discussing outer s.p.a.ce. Sitting in a suite in the Luxe Hotel in Beverly Hills in the fall of 2002, it did not take long for Aldrin to realize something was awry when the TV interviewer began asking him questions involving conspiracy theories. "I tried redirecting the discussion back to a legitimate discussion about s.p.a.ce," Aldrin says. Instead the interviewer played a clip from the Fox doc.u.mentary about moon hoaxes. Aldrin believes "conspiracy theories are a waste of everybody's time and energy," and he got up and left the interview. "I'm someone who has dealt with the exact science of s.p.a.ce rendezvous and orbital mechanics, so to have someone approach me and seriously suggest that Neil, Mike, and I never actually went to the moon, but that the entire trip had been staged in a sound studio someplace, has to rank with one of the most ludicrous ideas I've ever heard," says Aldrin.

Then, down in the hotel lobby, a large man in his midthirties approached Buzz Aldrin and tried to spark a conversation. The man, whose name was Bart Sibrel, had a film crew with him. "Hey, Buzz, how are you?" Sibrel asked, the cameras rolling. Aldrin said h.e.l.lo and headed out toward the street. Sibrel hurried along beside him, asking more questions. Then he pulled out a very large Bible and began shaking it in the former astronaut's face. "Will you swear on the Bible that you really walked on the moon?" Aldrin, who was seventy-two at the time, said, "You conspiracy people don't know what you're talking about" and turned to walk in the other direction. The man began hurling personal insults and accusations at Aldrin. "Your life is a complete lie!" the man shouted. "And here you are making money by giving interviews about things you never did!" The conspiracy theorist ran in front of Aldrin, blocking his way across the road. Aldrin, who had his stepdaughter with him, walked back to the hotel and asked the bellman to call the police. "You're a coward, Buzz Aldrin!" shouted the conspiracy theorist. "You're a liar; you're a thief!" Aldrin said he'd had enough: "Maybe it was the West Point cadet in me, or perhaps it was the Air Force fighter pilot. Or maybe I'd just had enough of his belligerent character a.s.sa.s.sination... I popped him." The second man on the moon punched the lunar-landing conspiracy theorist squarely in the jaw, cameras catching it all on tape.

In no time, the video footage was airing on the news, on CNN, on Jay Leno and David Letterman. CNN political commentator Paul Begala gave Aldrin the thumbs-up for pushing back against conspiracy theorists. But elsewhere, all across America, many millions of people agreed with the conspiracy theorists who believed that the lunar landing was a hoax. By the fortieth anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission, in 2009, polls conducted in America, England, and Russia revealed that approximately 25 percent of the people interviewed 25 percent of the people interviewed believed the moon landing never happened. Many said they believed that it was faked and filmed at Area 51. believed the moon landing never happened. Many said they believed that it was faked and filmed at Area 51.

As of 2011, the lunar-landing conspiracy is one of three primary conspiracies said to have been orchestrated at Area 51. The other two that dominate conspiracy thinking involve captured aliens and UFOs involve captured aliens and UFOs, and an underground tunnel and bunker system that supposedly exists below Area 51 and connects it to other military facilities and nuclear laboratories around the country. Each conspiracy theory contains elements of fact, and each is perceived differently by the three government agencies they target: NASA, the CIA, and the Department of Defense. In each conspiracy theory lies an important clue about the real truth behind Area 51.

Michael Schratt, who writes books and travels around the country giving lectures about government cover-ups at Area 51, says that the secret facility is "directly connected to Edwards [Air Force Base] North Base Complex and Air Force Plant 42 at Palmdale by an underground tube-shuttle tunnel system developed by the Rand Corporation and others [circa] 1960." Schratt also says that Area 51 is "very likely connected to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio" this same way. "The tunnels were dug by a nuclear-powered drill that can dig three miles of tunnel a day," Schratt says. "These tunnels also connect, by underground train, to other military facilities where leaders of government will go and live after a nuclear event" such as World War III. that can dig three miles of tunnel a day," Schratt says. "These tunnels also connect, by underground train, to other military facilities where leaders of government will go and live after a nuclear event" such as World War III.

In fact, underground tunnels, called N-tunnels, P-tunnels, and T-tunnels N-tunnels, P-tunnels, and T-tunnels, have been drilled next door to Area 51, at the Nevada Test Site, for decades. The 1,150-foot-long tunnel at Jacka.s.s Flats, drilled into the Calico Mountains, through which NERVA scientists and engineers like T. D. Barnes accessed their underground workstations is but one example of an underground tunnel at the Nevada Test Site. The NERVA complex in Area 25 has since been dismantled and "deactivated," according to the Department of Energy "deactivated," according to the Department of Energy, but elsewhere at the test site dozens of tunnel complexes exist. In the 1960s, one tunnel dug into the granite mountain of Rainer Mesa, in Area 12, reached down as far as 4,500 feet, nearly a mile underground. There are many such government tunnels and bunkers around America, but it was the revelation of the Greenbrier bunker the revelation of the Greenbrier bunker by by Washington Post Washington Post reporter Ted Gup in 1992 that set off a firestorm of conspiracy theories related to postapocalypse hideouts for the U.S. government elite-and since 1992, these secret bunkers have been woven into conspiracy theories about things that go on at Area 51. reporter Ted Gup in 1992 that set off a firestorm of conspiracy theories related to postapocalypse hideouts for the U.S. government elite-and since 1992, these secret bunkers have been woven into conspiracy theories about things that go on at Area 51.

The Greenbrier bunker is located in the Allegheny Mountains, 250 miles southwest of the nation's capital. Beginning in 1959, the Department of Defense spearheaded the construction of a 112,544-square-foot facility eight hundred feet below the West Virginia wing of the fashionable five-star Greenbrier resort. This secret bunker, completed in 1962, was to be the place where the president and certain members of Congress would live after a nuclear attack. The Greenbrier bunker had dormitories, a mess hall, decontamination chambers, and a hospital staffed with thirty-five doctors. "Secrecy, denying knowledge of the existence of the shelter from our potential enemies, was paramount to all matters of operation," Paul Bugas, the former onsite superintendent at the Greenbrier bunker, told PBS when asked why the facility was kept secret from the public. Many citizens agree with the premise. Conspiracy theorists disagree. They don't believe that the government keeps secrets to protect the people. Conspiracy theorists believe the leaders of government are only looking to protect themselves. of the shelter from our potential enemies, was paramount to all matters of operation," Paul Bugas, the former onsite superintendent at the Greenbrier bunker, told PBS when asked why the facility was kept secret from the public. Many citizens agree with the premise. Conspiracy theorists disagree. They don't believe that the government keeps secrets to protect the people. Conspiracy theorists believe the leaders of government are only looking to protect themselves.

The underground tunnels and bunkers at the Nevada Test Site may be the most elaborate underground chambers ever constructed by the federal government in the continental United States. The great majority of them are in Area 12, which is located approximately sixteen miles due west of Area 51 in a mountain range called Rainier Mesa. Beginning in 1957, ma.s.sive tunnel complexes were drilled into the volcanic rock and granite by hard-rock miners working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. To complete a single tunnel took, on average, twelve months on average, twelve months. Most tunnels ran approximately 1,300 feet below the surface of the earth, but some reached a mile underground. Inside these giant cavities, which averaged one hundred feet wide, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense have exploded at least sixty-seven nuclear bombs at least sixty-seven nuclear bombs. There, the military has tested nuclear blast and radiation effects on everything from missile nose cones to military satellites. A series called the Piledriver experiments studied survivability Piledriver experiments studied survivability of hardened underground bunkers in a nuclear attack. The Hardtack tests sought to learn how " of hardened underground bunkers in a nuclear attack. The Hardtack tests sought to learn how "to destroy enemy targets [such as] missile silos and command centers" using megaton bombs. Inside the T-tunnels, scientists created vacuum chambers to simulate outer s.p.a.ce, expanding on those dangerous late-1950s upper atmospheric tests code-named Teak and Orange. And the Department of Defense even tested how a stockpile of nuclear weapons inside an underground bunker would hold up to a nuclear blast. and command centers" using megaton bombs. Inside the T-tunnels, scientists created vacuum chambers to simulate outer s.p.a.ce, expanding on those dangerous late-1950s upper atmospheric tests code-named Teak and Orange. And the Department of Defense even tested how a stockpile of nuclear weapons inside an underground bunker would hold up to a nuclear blast.

Richard Mingus has spent many years inside these underground tunnel complexes, guarding many of the nuclear bombs guarding many of the nuclear bombs used in the tests before they were detonated. In Mingus's five decades working at the test site, these were his least favorite a.s.signments. "The tunnels were dirty, filthy, you had to wear heavy shoes because there was so much walking on all kinds of rock rubble," Mingus explains. "The air was bad and everything was stuffy. There were so many people working so many different jobs. Carpenters, welders... There were forty-eight-inch cutting machines covering the ground." Most of the equipment was hauled in on railroad tracks, which is at least partially responsible for inspiring conspiracy theories that include trains underneath Area 51-though the conspiracy theorists believe they're able to ferry government elite back and forth between Nevada and the East Coast. In reality, according to Atomic Energy Commission records, the Defense Department built the train system in the tunnels to transport heavy military equipment in and out. If employees wanted to, men like Richard Mingus could ride the train cars down into the underground tunnel complexes, but Mingus preferred to walk. used in the tests before they were detonated. In Mingus's five decades working at the test site, these were his least favorite a.s.signments. "The tunnels were dirty, filthy, you had to wear heavy shoes because there was so much walking on all kinds of rock rubble," Mingus explains. "The air was bad and everything was stuffy. There were so many people working so many different jobs. Carpenters, welders... There were forty-eight-inch cutting machines covering the ground." Most of the equipment was hauled in on railroad tracks, which is at least partially responsible for inspiring conspiracy theories that include trains underneath Area 51-though the conspiracy theorists believe they're able to ferry government elite back and forth between Nevada and the East Coast. In reality, according to Atomic Energy Commission records, the Defense Department built the train system in the tunnels to transport heavy military equipment in and out. If employees wanted to, men like Richard Mingus could ride the train cars down into the underground tunnel complexes, but Mingus preferred to walk.

Unlike atmospheric weapons tests or the atomic tests in vertical shafts that made the moonlike craters, for the T-tunnel nuclear tests, the bomb was one of the first items to arrive on scene. "The bomb was cemented in the back of the tunnel, in a room called the zero room," Mingus says. "That was about three-quarters of a mile distance." Sometimes, Mingus would stand guard with the nuclear bomb at the end of the tunnel for eight- or ten-hour shifts, so he chose to walk in each morning "for the exercise." Mingus also disliked the a.s.signments inside the underground tunnels because they reminded him of a part of his early life he would rather have forgotten. "When I was a kid working the coal mines," Mingus explains. But as anxious as a man standing guard over live nuclear bombs might have been, Mingus remained calm. He says the coal mines of his youth were far more dangerous. "There were no electric drills back then so my brother and I drilled by hand. We'd get down on our knees in those little tunnels-three and a half feet wide, not tall enough to stand up in. We'd use black powder as an explosive, not dynamite. We'd set the powder in the hole, tap it with a rod, use a fuse that was like toilet paper, light it, run out, and then wait for the smoke to clear. Some things you never forget even if you want to," Mingus says.

Before the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the Pentagon maintained a policy of announcing nuclear weapons tests to the public, usually one or two hours before shot time, which meant somewhere around 3:30 a.m. the day of the blast. After the test ban, the Pentagon reversed its policy After the test ban, the Pentagon reversed its policy. Information about underground tests-when they were to take place and how big they would be-was now cla.s.sified secret. Only if a scientist predicted that an earthquake-like tremor might be felt in Las Vegas, sixty-five miles to the south, was a public announcement made in advance of the nuclear test. And so, from 1963 until the last test in 1992, approximately eight hundred tests were conducted underground. By the late 1990s, decades after the first drills bored into the rock at the Nevada Test Site, the nuclear bombs, the hard-rock miners, and Area 51 had merged into one ent.i.ty. As it is with many urban legends regarding Area 51, the underground-tunnels idea has been spun from facts.

As creative as conspiracy theorists can be when it comes to Area 51, it is surprising how they have missed the one underlying element that connects the three primary conspiracy theories about the secret facility to the truth. For conspiracy theorists, in the captured-aliens-and-UFOs narrative, the federal agency orchestrating the plot is the CIA. In the lunar-landing conspiracy the agency committing the fraud is NASA. In the underground tunnels and bunker plot, the evil operating force is the Department of Defense. And yet the one agency that plays an actual role in the underlying facts regarding all three of these conspiracy theories is the Atomic Energy Commission.

Why have conspiracy theorists missed this connection? Why has the Atomic Energy Commission escaped the scrutiny it deserves? The truth is hidden out in the desert at the Nevada Test Site. To borrow the metaphor of CIA spymaster James Angleton, that is where a "wilderness of mirrors" can be found. Angleton believed the Soviets spun lies from lies and in doing so were able to keep America's intelligence agents lost in an illusory forest. In this same manner, throughout the Cold War the Atomic Energy Commission created its own wilderness of mirrors out in the Nevada desert, built from illusory half-truths and outright lies. The commission was able to send the public further and further away from the truth, not with "mirrors" but by rubber-stamping doc.u.ments with Restricted Data, Secret, and Confidential, to keep them out of the public eye. The Area 51 conspiracy theories that were born of the Cold War-the ones peopled by aliens, piloted by UFOs, set in underground cities and on movie sets of the moon-these conspiracies all stand to aid and a.s.sist the Atomic Energy Commission in keeping the public away from secret truths.

It is no coincidence that the agency behind some of the most secret and dangerous acts out in the desert-at the Nevada Test and Training Range, the Nevada Test Site, and Area 51-has changed its name four times. First it was called the Manhattan Project, during World War II. Then, in 1947, it changed its name to the Atomic Energy Commission, or AEC. In 1975 the agency was renamed the Energy Research and Development Administration, or ERDA. In 1977 it was renamed again, this time the Department of Energy, "the government department whose mission is to advance technology and promote related innovation mission is to advance technology and promote related innovation in the United States," which conveniently makes it sound more like Apple Corporation than the federal agency that produced seventy thousand nuclear bombs. Finally, in 2000, the nuclear weapons side of the agency got a new name for the fourth time: the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, a department nestled away inside the Department of Energy, or DOE. In August 2010, even the Nevada Test Site changed its name. It is now called the Nevada National Security Site, or NNSS. in the United States," which conveniently makes it sound more like Apple Corporation than the federal agency that produced seventy thousand nuclear bombs. Finally, in 2000, the nuclear weapons side of the agency got a new name for the fourth time: the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, a department nestled away inside the Department of Energy, or DOE. In August 2010, even the Nevada Test Site changed its name. It is now called the Nevada National Security Site, or NNSS.

Since the National Security Act of 1947 reorganized government after the war, the Department of Defense, the CIA, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force have all maintained their original names. The cabinet-level Departments of State, Labor, Transportation, Justice, and Education are all called today what they were when they were born. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has changed its name once since its formal beginning in 1908 formal beginning in 1908. Originally it was called the Bureau of Investigation, or BOI. By changing the name of the nation's nuclear weapons agency four times since its creation in 1942, does the federal government hope the nefarious secrets of the Atomic Energy Commission will simply disappear? Certainly, many of its records have.

James Angleton spent his career trying to prove Soviet deception. Angleton argued that totalitarian governments had the capacity to confuse and manipulate the West to such a degree that the downfall of democracy was inevitable unless the Soviet deceivers could be stopped. Angleton's belief system made him paranoid and extreme. For three years, he imprisoned a Soviet double agent and former KGB officer named Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko in a secret CIA prison Yuri Ivanovich Nosenko in a secret CIA prison in the United States-subjecting Nosenko to varying degrees of torture in an effort to break him and get him to tell the "truth." (After pa.s.sing multiple polygraph tests, Nosenko was eventually released and resettled under an a.s.sumed ident.i.ty. in the United States-subjecting Nosenko to varying degrees of torture in an effort to break him and get him to tell the "truth." (After pa.s.sing multiple polygraph tests, Nosenko was eventually released and resettled under an a.s.sumed ident.i.ty. His true allegiance remains the subject of debate His true allegiance remains the subject of debate.) The Nosenko affair brought about Angleton's personal downfall. He was fired and he left the Agency disgraced. Deception may be a game between governments but the consequences of engaging in it are, for some, very real.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union did not have the monopoly on deception. In 1995, after President Clinton ordered his Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments to look into Cold War secret-keeping at the Atomic Energy Commission, disturbing doc.u.mentation was found. In a memorandum dated May 1, 1995 memorandum dated May 1, 1995, the subject line chosen by Clinton's committee to sum up early AEC secret-keeping protocol read: "Official Cla.s.sification Policy to Cover Up Embarra.s.sment." One of the more damaging doc.u.ments unearthed by Clinton's staff was a September 1947 memo by the Atomic Energy Commission's general manager John Derry. In a doc.u.ment Clinton's staff called the Derry Memo the Atomic Energy Commission ruled: "All doc.u.ments and correspondence relating to matters of policy and procedures, the given knowledge of which might compromise or cause embarra.s.sment to the Atomic Energy Commission and/or its contractors," should be cla.s.sified secret or confidential. relating to matters of policy and procedures, the given knowledge of which might compromise or cause embarra.s.sment to the Atomic Energy Commission and/or its contractors," should be cla.s.sified secret or confidential.

Clinton's staff also discovered a doc.u.ment that read: "... there are a large number of papers which do not violate security, but do cause considerable concern to the Atomic Energy Commission Insurance Branch cause considerable concern to the Atomic Energy Commission Insurance Branch." In other words, the commission cla.s.sified many doc.u.ments because it did not want to get sued. A particular problem arose, the memo continued, "in the decla.s.sification of medical papers on human administration experiments done to date medical papers on human administration experiments done to date." To find a way around the problem the commission consulted with its "Atomic Energy Commission Insurance Branch." The conclusion was that if anything was going to be decla.s.sified it should first be "reworded or deleted" "reworded or deleted" so as not to result in a legal claim. so as not to result in a legal claim.

The Internet is where conspiracy theorists share ideas, the great majority of which involve government plots. It is ironic that the Internet, originally called the DARPA Internet Program, was launched by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (originally called ARPA) in 1969 as a means for the military to communicate digitally during the Vietnam War. In 2011 there are an estimated 1.96 billion Internet users In 2011 there are an estimated 1.96 billion Internet users worldwide-almost one-third of the people on the planet-and the most popular conspiracy Web site based in America is AboveTopSecret.com. According to CEO Bill Irvine, the site sees five million visitors each month. AboveTopSecret.com has approximately 2.4 million pages of content, including 10.6 million individual posts. The Web site's motto is worldwide-almost one-third of the people on the planet-and the most popular conspiracy Web site based in America is AboveTopSecret.com. According to CEO Bill Irvine, the site sees five million visitors each month. AboveTopSecret.com has approximately 2.4 million pages of content, including 10.6 million individual posts. The Web site's motto is Deny Ignorance Deny Ignorance, and its members say they are people who "rage against the mindless status-quo."

Of 25,000 AboveTopSecret.com users polled in 2011, the second most popular discussion thread involves extraterrestrials and UFO cover-ups at Area 51. But the single most popular discussion thread at AboveTop Secret.com is something called the New World Order. According to Bill Irvine, this idea has gained momentum at an "astonishing rate" over the past two years. Irvine says it serves as a nexus conspiracy for many others, including those based at Area 51.

The premise of the New World Order conspiracy theory the New World Order conspiracy theory is that a powerful, secretive cabal of men are aspiring to take over the planet through a totalitarian, one-world government. Some believers of the New World Order call it the Fourth Reich because, they say, it will be similar to Germany's Third Reich, including n.a.z.i eugenics, militarism, and Orwellian monitoring of citizens' private lives. As outlandish as this New World Order conspiracy may seem to nonconspiracy thinkers, it touches upon the original secret at Area 51-the real reason why the U.S. government cannot admit that Area 51 exists. is that a powerful, secretive cabal of men are aspiring to take over the planet through a totalitarian, one-world government. Some believers of the New World Order call it the Fourth Reich because, they say, it will be similar to Germany's Third Reich, including n.a.z.i eugenics, militarism, and Orwellian monitoring of citizens' private lives. As outlandish as this New World Order conspiracy may seem to nonconspiracy thinkers, it touches upon the original secret at Area 51-the real reason why the U.S. government cannot admit that Area 51 exists.

CHAPTER TWENTY.

From Camera Bays to Weapons Bays, the Air Force Takes Control What happened at Area 51 during the 1980s? Most of the work remains cla.s.sified and very little else is known. One of the most sensational near catastrophes most sensational near catastrophes to happen at Area 51 during this time has never before been revealed-notably not even hinted at in Area 51 legend or lore. It involved to happen at Area 51 during this time has never before been revealed-notably not even hinted at in Area 51 legend or lore. It involved a mock helicopter attack a mock helicopter attack at the guard station that separates the Nevada Test Site from Area 51. So serious was the situation, which included semiautomatic weapons and a nuclear bomb, that both the Pentagon and the White House stepped in. at the guard station that separates the Nevada Test Site from Area 51. So serious was the situation, which included semiautomatic weapons and a nuclear bomb, that both the Pentagon and the White House stepped in.

One of the greatest potential threats to Area 51 in terms of an enemy attack would be from low-flying aircraft or helicopter. "A helicopter would be the aerial vehicle of choice," says Barnes. "Whereas an airplane would be seen airborne long before it reached its target, a helicopter could be trucked in and then launched only a short distance from the restricted area. In that case, the helicopter would breach the security protection before defending aircraft from Area 51 could become airborne." Which is why, to prepare against such threats, security guards like Richard Mingus would often partic.i.p.ate in counterattack tests using large low-flying helium balloons as targets. "The balloons simulated helicopters," Mingus explains. The tests used aging V-100 Commando armored personnel carriers, complete with mounted machine guns, left over from the Vietnam War. With four-wheel drive, high clearance, and excellent mobility, the retired amphibious armored car would ferry Mingus and his team of heavily armed sensitive a.s.signment specialists as far as they could get up the mountain range, until the terrain became too steep.

"We'd park the V-100, run the rest of the way up the mountain with machine guns, set up on top of the mountain, and fire at these forty-inch weather balloons. There'd always be a driver, a supervisor, and a loader on the SAS team. We each had an a.s.signment. One guy kept score." Scores were important because the stakes were so high. The Nevada Test Site was the single most prolific atomic bombing facility in the world. It had a three-decade-long history of impeccable security, as did Area 51. Which is what made the breach that Mingus witnessed so radical.

It was a scorching-hot day during the Ronald Reagan presidency, the kind of day at the test site when people knew not to touch metal surfaces outside or they'd wind up getting burned. Mingus believes it was 1982 but can't say for sure, as the event was specifically kept off of his Department of Energy logbook. No longer a security guard, Mingus had been promoted to security operations coordinator for Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. At the time the near catastrophe occurred, the rank-and-file security entourage was escorting a nuclear device down Rainier Mesa Road. The bomb, one of eighteen The bomb, one of eighteen exploded underground at the Nevada Test Site in 1982, was going to be exploded in an underground shaft. As the exploded underground at the Nevada Test Site in 1982, was going to be exploded in an underground shaft. As the five-man security response team five-man security response team trailed behind the bomb transport vehicle (in an armored vehicle of its own), they made sure to keep a short distance behind the nuclear device, as was protocol. "There was a driver, a supervisor, a gunner operating the turret, a loader making sure the ammo feeds into the machine guns and doesn't jam, and two riflemen," Richard Mingus explains. There is always distance between the security team and the bomb: "One of the riflemen handles the tear gas and the other works the grenade launcher. You can shoot both weapons from either the shoulder or the hip. They'll hit a target fifty or seventy-five yards away because if you find yourself under attack and having to shoot, you want distance. You don't want the tear gas coming back and getting you in the nose." trailed behind the bomb transport vehicle (in an armored vehicle of its own), they made sure to keep a short distance behind the nuclear device, as was protocol. "There was a driver, a supervisor, a gunner operating the turret, a loader making sure the ammo feeds into the machine guns and doesn't jam, and two riflemen," Richard Mingus explains. There is always distance between the security team and the bomb: "One of the riflemen handles the tear gas and the other works the grenade launcher. You can shoot both weapons from either the shoulder or the hip. They'll hit a target fifty or seventy-five yards away because if you find yourself under attack and having to shoot, you want distance. You don't want the tear gas coming back and getting you in the nose."

After the security response team and the nuclear bomb arrived at that day's ground zero, a team of engineers and crane operators began the process of getting the weapon safely and securely inside an approximately eight-hundred-foot-deep hole that had been drilled into the desert floor and would house the bomb. Inserting a live nuclear weapon into a narrow, five-foot-diameter shaft required extraordinary precision by a single engineer operating a heavy metal crane. There was no room for error. The crane worked in hundred-foot increments, which in test sitespeak were called picks. Only after the second pick was reached, meaning the bomb was two hundred feet down, was the security eased up. Then and only then would two of the men from the response team be released. Until that moment, the bomb was considered unsecured.

Richard Mingus had been part of dozens of ground zero teams over the past quarter of a century but on this particular morning circa 1982 Mingus was coordinating security operations for Livermore from inside a building called the control point, which was located in Area 6, ten miles from the bomb. The nuclear bomb was just about to reach the second pick when chaos entered the scene.

"I was sitting at my desk at the control point when I got the call," Mingus says. "d.i.c.k Stock, the device systems engineer supervising the shot at ground zero, says over the phone, 'We're under attack over at the device a.s.sembly building!'" In the 1980s, the device a.s.sembly building was the place where the bomb components were married with the nuclear material. Because there were several nuclear weapons tests scheduled for that same week, Mingus knew there were likely additional nuclear weapons in the process of being put together at the device a.s.sembly building, in Area 27, which Mingus had good reason to believe was now under attack. "d.i.c.k Stock said he heard the information coming over the radios that the guys on the security response team were carrying" on their belts. Now it was up to Mingus to make the call about what to do next.

In the twenty-six years he had been employed at the test site, Richard Mingus had worked his way up from security guard to Livermore's operations coordinator. He was an American success story. After his father died in 1941, Mingus dropped out of high school to work the coal mines. Eventually he went back to school, got a diploma, and joined the Air Force to serve in the Korean War. At the test site, Mingus had paid his dues. For years he stood guard over cla.s.sified projects in the desert, through scorching-hot summers and cold winters, all the while guarding nuclear bombs and lethal plutonium-dispersal tests. By the mid-1960s, Mingus had saved enough overtime pay to buy a home for his family, which now included the young son he and Gloria had always dreamed about. By the mid-1970s, Mingus had enough money to purchase a second home, a hunting cabin in the woods. By the early 1980s, he had been promoted so many times, he qualified for GS-12, which in federal service hierarchy is only three rungs below the top grade, GS-15. "I attended the school for nuclear weapons orientation at Kirtland Air Force Base and had pa.s.sed a series of advanced courses," Mingus says. "But nothing, and I mean nothing, prepares you for the experience of thinking the nuclear material you are guarding is under attack."

During that chaotic morning, Mingus knew all he could afford to focus on was the bomb in the hole. "I thought to myself, d.i.c.k Stock said the bomb is almost two picks down the hole. We're under attack here. What's best? I asked myself. If someone put a gun to the head of the crane operator and said, 'Get it out' they'd have a live nuclear bomb in their possession. I knew I had to make a decision. Was it safer to pull the bomb up or keep sending it down? I decided it was better to have a big problem at ground zero than somewhere else so I gave the order. I said, 'Keep the device going down.'"

Mingus had a quick conversation with Joe Behne quick conversation with Joe Behne, the test director, about what was going on. The men agreed Mingus should call the head of security for the Department of Energy, a woman by the name of Pat Williams. "She said, 'Yes, we hear the same thing and we have to a.s.sume the same thing. We are under attack as far as I know,'" Mingus recalls.

Next Mingus called Larry Ferderber, the resident manager of the Nevada Test Site for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "Two minutes later Ferderber confirms the same thing, he says, 'I hear we're under attack.'" Mingus and Behne went through the protocol checklist. "Joe and I discussed going down to the bas.e.m.e.nt and destroying the crypto which was in my building. Then we decided that it was too early for that. When you look out and you see guns firing, like on the USS Pueblo, Pueblo, then it's time to start destroying things. But not before." then it's time to start destroying things. But not before."

Instead, Mingus called Bill Baker, the man who ran the device a.s.sembly building. With an attack now confirmed by the spokesperson for the Department of Energy and the test site manager, Mingus had to work fast. "I asked Bill Baker what was going on," Mingus recalls. "He said, real calm, 'We're fine over here. I'm looking out the window. I can see Captain Williams standing outside.'" Mingus got off the telephone and had another discussion with Joe Behne. "I told Joe, I said, 'We can't buy his word. He could be under duress. He could have a knife at his neck or a gun at his head.'"

Meanwhile, just a few miles to the east, hovering several hundred feet over the guard post between the test site and Area 51, a group of men were leaning out of a helicopter firing semiautomatic weapons at the guards on the ground. But the bullets in their weapons were blanks, not real ammunition, and the men in the helicopter were security guards from Wackenhut Security, not enemies of the state. Wackenhut Security had decided to conduct a mock attack of an access point to Area 51 to test the system for weaknesses. With astounding lack of foresight, Wackenhut Security With astounding lack of foresight, Wackenhut Security had not bothered to inform the Department of Energy of their mock-attack plans. had not bothered to inform the Department of Energy of their mock-attack plans.

Back at the control point, in Area 6, Richard Mingus's telephone rang. It was Pat Williams, the woman in charge of security for the Department of Energy. "She was real brief," Mingus says. "She said, 'It was a test and we didn't know about it.' Then she just hung up." Mingus was astonished. "Looking back, in all my years, I have to say it was one of the scariest things I'd ever run into. It was like kids were running the test site that day." Mingus didn't write up any paperwork on the incident. "I don't believe I made a note in my record book," he says. Instead, Mingus kept working. "We had a nuclear bomb to get down into its hole and explode." Test director Joe Behne believes paperwork exists. "I know it's in the record. It was not a minor incident," he says. "For those of us that were there that day it was almost unbelievable, except we believed [briefly] it was real-that Ground Zero was being attacked from a warlike enemy. The incident is bound to be in the logbooks. All kinds of people got calls."

Far from the test site, things did not return to calm so quickly. The Department of Energy notified the FBI, who notified the Pentagon and the White House that Area 51 was under attack. The Navy's nuclear-armed submarines were put on alert, which meant that Tomahawk cruise missiles were now targeting the Nevada Test Site and Area 51. Crisis was averted before things elevated further, but it was a close call. Troy Wade was at the Pentagon at the time and told Mingus he "remembers hearing about how high up it went." Guards from Wackenhut Security lost their jobs, but like most everything at Area 51, there were no leaks to the press. Only with the publication of this book has the incident come to light.

The nuclear bomb Mingus was in charge of overseeing was live and not secured, meaning an actual attack on the test site at that moment would have raised the possibility of a nuclear weapon being hijacked by an enemy of the nation. But there was another reason that the nuclear submarines were put on alert that day: the extremely sensitive nature of a black project the Air Force was running at Area 51. The top secret aircraft being tested there was the single most important invention in U.S. airpower since the Army started its aeronautical division in 1907. Parked on the tarmac at Area 51 was the F-117 Nighthawk, the nation's first stealth bomber.

The F-117 would radically change the way America fought wars. As a Lockheed official explained at a banquet honoring the F-117 in April of 2008, "Before the advent of stealth, war planners had to determine how many sorties were necessary to take out a single target. After the invention of the F-117 stealth bomber, that changed. It became, How many targets can we take out on a single sortie?"

Lockheed physicist Edward Lovick worked on each rendition of the stealth bomber, which began in the early 1970s with Harvey, a prototype aircraft named after the Jimmy Stewart film about an invisible rabbit. Harvey's stealth qualities were initially engineered using slide rules and calculators using slide rules and calculators, the same way Lockheed had developed the A-12 Oxcart. Only with the emergence of the mainframe computer, in 1974, did those tools become obsolete. "Two Lockheed engineers, named Denys Overholser and d.i.c.k Scherrer, realized that it might be possible to design a stealth aircraft that would take advantage of some of the results of a computer's calculations," Lovick says. "In 1974 computers were relatively new and most of them were the size of a car. Our computer at Lockheed ran on punch cards and had less than 60 K worth of memory." Still, the computer could do what humans could not do, and that was endless calculations.

"The concept behind the computer program involved mirrors reflecting mirrors," Lovick explains. Mathematician Bill Schroeder set to work writing Lockheed's original computer code, called Echo. If the CIA's James Jesus Angleton was correct and the Soviet security forces really were using black propaganda to create a "wilderness of mirrors" to ensnare the West, the Air Force was going to create its own set of reflective surfaces to beat the Russians back with the F-117 stealth bomber. "We designed flat, faceted panels and had them act like mirrors to scatter radar waves away from the plane," Lovick says. "It was a radical idea and it worked."

The next, on-paper incarnation of the F-117 Nighthawk began in 1974 and was called the Hopeless Diamond, so named because it resembled the Hope Diamond and because Lockheed engineers didn't have much hope it would actually fly. After the Hopeless Diamond concept went through a series of redesigns it became a full-scale mock-up of an aircraft and was renamed Have Blue. T. D. Barnes was the man in charge of radar testing Lockheed's proof-of-concept stealth bomber at Area 51. "Lockheed handed it over to us and we put it up on the pole," Barnes says. "It was a very weird, very crude-looking thing that actually looked a lot like the ship from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Our job was to look at it from every angle using radar to see how it showed up on radar." Radars had advanced considerably since the early days of the Cold War. "Initially, it was as visible as a big old barn," says Barnes. So the Have Blue mock-up was sent back to the Skunk Works for more fine-tuning. Several months later, a new version of the mock-up arrived at Area 51. "Lockheed had changed the shape of the aircraft and a lot of the angles of the panels. Once we put the new mock-up on the pole it appeared to us as something around the size of a crow." There was a final round of redesigns, then the airplane came back to Area 51 again. "We put it up on the pole and all we saw was the pole." Now it was time for Lockheed to present the final rendition of the Have Blue to the Air Force, in hopes of landing the contract to build the nation's first stealth bomber. Our job was to look at it from every angle using radar to see how it showed up on radar." Radars had advanced considerably since the early days of the Cold War. "Initially, it was as visible as a big old barn," says Barnes. So the Have Blue mock-up was sent back to the Skunk Works for more fine-tuning. Several months later, a new version of the mock-up arrived at Area 51. "Lockheed had changed the shape of the aircraft and a lot of the angles of the panels. Once we put the new mock-up on the pole it appeared to us as something around the size of a crow." There was a final round of redesigns, then the airplane came back to Area 51 again. "We put it up on the pole and all we saw was the pole." Now it was time for Lockheed to present the final rendition of the Have Blue to the Air Force, in hopes of landing the contract to build the nation's first stealth bomber.

The director of science and engineering at Skunk Works, a man named Ed Martin, went to Lovick for some advice. "Ed Martin asked me how I thought the aircraft might appear on enemy radar. I explained that if the Oxcart showed up as being roughly equivalent to the size of a man, the Have Blue would appear to a radar like a seven-sixteenth-inch metal sphere-roughly the size of a ball bearing." Ed Martin loved Lovick's a.n.a.logy. A ball bearing. That was something a person could relate to. Before Martin left for Washington, DC, Lovick went to the Lockheed tool shop and borrowed a bag of ball bearings. He wanted Ed Martin to have a visual reference to share with the Air Force officials there. "Later, I learned the ball-bearing ill.u.s.tration was so effective that the customers began rolling the little silvery spheres across the conference table. The a.n.a.logy has become legendary, often still used to make an important visual point about the stealthy F-117 Nighthawk with its high-frequency radar signature that is as tiny as a ball bearing." In 1976, Lockheed won the contract. Immediately, they began manufacturing two Have Blue aircraft in the legendary Skunk Works Building 82. The man in charge of engineering, fabrication, and a.s.sembly The man in charge of engineering, fabrication, and a.s.sembly of the pair of stealth bombers was Bob Murphy, the same person who twenty-one years earlier had begun his career in a pair of overalls at Area 51, working for Kelly Johnson as chief mechanic on the U-2. of the pair of stealth bombers was Bob Murphy, the same person who twenty-one years earlier had begun his career in a pair of overalls at Area 51, working for Kelly Johnson as chief mechanic on the U-2.

Testing a bomber plane would be a radically different process from testing a spy plane, and the F-117 was the first bomber to be flight-tested at Area 51. Most notably, the new bomber would require testing for accuracy in dropping bombs on targets. For nearly twenty-five years, the CIA and the Air Force had been flying spy planes and drones in the Box. But there was simply not enough flat square footage at Groom Lake to drop bombs at Groom Lake to drop bombs. There was also the issue of sound. With multiple projects going on at Area 51, not everyone was cleared for the F-117.

A second site was needed, and for this, the Air Force turned to the Department of Energy, formerly the Atomic Energy Commission. A land-use deal was struck allowing the Air Force to use a preexisting, little-known bombing range to use a preexisting, little-known bombing range that the Atomic Energy Commission had quietly been using for decades. It was deep in the desert, within the Connecticut-size Nevada Test and Training Range. Located seventy miles northwest of Area 51, the Tonopah Test Range was almost in Death Valley and had been in use as a bombing range and missile-launch facility for Sandia Laboratories since 1957. The Department of Energy had no trouble carving a top secret part.i.tion out of the 624-square-mile range for the Air Force's new bomber project. To be kept entirely off the books, the secondary black site was named Area 52. Like Area 51, Area 52 has never been officially acknowledged. that the Atomic Energy Commission had quietly been using for decades. It was deep in the desert, within the Connecticut-size Nevada Test and Training Range. Located seventy miles northwest of Area 51, the Tonopah Test Range was almost in Death Valley and had been in use as a bombing range and missile-launch facility for Sandia Laboratories since 1957. The Department of Energy had no trouble carving a top secret part.i.tion out of the 624-square-mile range for the Air Force's new bomber project. To be kept entirely off the books, the secondary black site was named Area 52. Like Area 51, Area 52 has never been officially acknowledged.

The spa.r.s.ely populated, high-desert outpost of Tonopah, Nevada, was once the nation's most important producer of gold and silver ore. In 1903, eighty-six million dollars in metals came out of the area's mines, nearly two billion in 2011 dollars, and at the turn of the century, thirty thousand people rushed to the mile-high desert city seeking treasure there. Tonopah's nearest neighbor, the town of Beatty, where T. D. Barnes lived in the 1960s, became known in 1907 as the Chicago of the West the Chicago of the West. For several years the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad maintained a rail line between the two cities, which at one point was the West's busiest rail line. And then, almost overnight and like so many towns ensnared in the gold rush, Tonopah went bust. Within ten years, it was just a few families too many to be called a ghost town. Even the railroad company ripped up its steel tracks and carted them away for better use. Packs of wild horses and antelope came back down from the mountains and began to graze as they had before the boom, pulling weeds and scrub from the parched desert landscape between the Cactus and the Kawich mountain ranges. When a group of weaponeers from Sandia descended upon the area four decades later, in 1956, they were thrilled with what they found. Tonopah was a perfect place for "secret testing [that] could be conducted safely and securely." "secret testing [that] could be conducted safely and securely." Years later, boasting to their corporate shareholders, the Sandians, as they called themselves, Years later, boasting to their corporate shareholders, the Sandians, as they called themselves, would quote Saint Paul of Tarsus would quote Saint Paul of Tarsus to sum up their mission at Tonopah Test Range: "test all things; hold fast that which is good." to sum up their mission at Tonopah Test Range: "test all things; hold fast that which is good."

Between 1957 and 1964, Sandia dropped 680 bombs and launched 555 rockets from what was now officially but quietly called the Sandia National Laboratories' Outpost at Tonopah. In 1963, Sandia conducted a series of top secret plutonium-dispersal tests, similar to the Project 57 test that had been conducted at Groom Lake just a few years earlier. Called Operation Roller Coaster, three dirty bomb tests Operation Roller Coaster, three dirty bomb tests were performed to collect biological data on three hundred animals placed downwind from aerosolized plutonium clouds generated from three Sandia nuclear weapons. With seven hundred Sandians hard at work in the desert flats for Operation Roller Coaster, a report called it Sandia's "highlight of 1963." Tonopah was so far removed from the already far removed and restricted sites at Area 51 and the Nevada Test Site that no one outside a need-to-know had ever even heard of it. were performed to collect biological data on three hundred animals placed downwind from aerosolized plutonium clouds generated from three Sandia nuclear weapons. With seven hundred Sandians hard at work in the desert flats for Operation Roller Coaster, a report called it Sandia's "highlight of 1963." Tonopah was so far removed from the already far removed and restricted sites at Area 51 and the Nevada Test Site that no one outside a need-to-know had ever even heard of it.

In October of 1979, construction for an F-117 Nighthawk support facility construction for an F-117 Nighthawk support facility at Tonopah began inside Area 52. The facility at Area 51 served as a model for the facility being built at Area 52. Similarly styled runways and taxiways were built, as well as a maintenance hangar, using crews already cleared for work on Nevada Test Site contracts. Sixteen mobile homes were carted in, and several permanent support buildings were constructed. Sandia didn't want to draw attention to the project, so the Air Force officers a.s.signed to the base were ordered to at Tonopah began inside Area 52. The facility at Area 51 served as a model for the facility being built at Area 52. Similarly styled runways and taxiways were built, as well as a maintenance hangar, using crews already cleared for work on Nevada Test Site contracts. Sixteen mobile homes were carted in, and several permanent support buildings were constructed. Sandia didn't want to draw attention to the project, so the Air Force officers a.s.signed to the base were ordered to grow their hair long and to grow beards grow their hair long and to grow beards. Sporting a hippie look, as opposed to a military look, was less likely to draw unwanted attention to a highly cla.s.sified project cropping up in the outer reaches of the Nevada Test Site. That way, the men could do necessary business in the town of Tonopah.

The two facilities, Area 51 and Area 52, worked in tandem to get the F-117 battle-ready. When the mock attack at the guard gate at Area 51 occurred, in 1982, test flights of the F-117 test flights of the F-117-which only ever happened at night-were already in full swing. For some weeks, a debate raged as to how an act of idiocy by a small group of Wackenhut Security guards nearly outed a billion-dollar aircraft as well as two top secret military test facilities that had remained secret for thirty years. An estimated ten thousand personnel had managed to keep the F-117 program in the dark. There was a collective mopping of the brow and succinct orders to move on, and then, two years later, the program was nearly outed again when an Air Force general broke protocol and decided to take a ride in one of Area 51's prized MiG fighter jets.

The death of Lieutenant General Robert M. Bond Lieutenant General Robert M. Bond on April 26, 1984, in Area 25 of the Nevada Test Site was an avoidable tragedy. With 267 combat missions under his belt, 44 in Korea and 213 in Vietnam, Robert M. Bond was a highly decorated Air Force pilot revered by many. At the time of his accident, he was vice commander of Air Force Systems Command at Andrews Air Force Base, in Maryland, which made him a VIP when it came to the F-117 program going on at Area 51. In March of 1984, General Bond arrived at the secret facility to see how things were progressing. The general's visit should have been no different than those made by the scores of generals whose footsteps Bond was following in, visits that began back in 1955 with on April 26, 1984, in Area 25 of the Nevada Test Site was an avoidable tragedy. With 267 combat missions under his belt, 44 in Korea and 213 in Vietnam, Robert M. Bond was a highly decorated Air Force pilot revered by many. At the time of his accident, he was vice commander of Air Force Systems Command at Andrews Air Force Base, in Maryland, which made him a VIP when it came to the F-117 program going on at Area 51. In March of 1984, General Bond arrived at the secret facility to see how things were progressing. The general's visit should have been no different than those made by the scores of generals whose footsteps Bond was following in, visits that began back in 1955 with men like General James "Jimmy" Doolittle men like General James "Jimmy" Doolittle and General Curtis LeMay. The dignitaries were always treated in high style; they would eat, drink, and bear witness to top secret history being made. Following in this tradition, General Bond's first visit went without incident. But in addition to being impressed by the F-117 Nighthawk, General Bond was equally fascinated by the MiG program, which was still going on at Area 51. In the fifteen years since the CIA had gotten its hands on Munir Redfa's MiG-21, the Agency and the Air Force had acquired a fleet of Soviet-made aircraft including an MiG-15, an MiG-17, and, most recently, the supersonic MiG-23. Barnes says, "We called it the Flogger. It was a very fast plane, almost Mach 3. But it was squirrelly. Hard to fly. It could kill you if you weren't well trained." and General Curtis LeMay. The dignitaries were always treated in high style; they would eat, drink, and bear witness to top secret history being made. Following in this tradition, General Bond's first visit went without incident. But in addition to being impressed by the F-117 Nighthawk, General Bond was equally fascinated by the MiG program, which was still going on at Area 51. In the fifteen years since the CIA had gotten its hands on Munir Redfa's MiG-21, the Agency and the Air Force had acquired a fleet of Soviet-made aircraft including an MiG-15, an MiG-17, and, most recently, the supersonic MiG-23. Barnes says, "We called it the Flogger. It was a very fast plane, almost Mach 3. But it was squirrelly. Hard to fly. It could kill you if you weren't well trained."

On a visit to Area 51 the following month, General Bond requested to fly the MiG-23. "There was some debate about whether the general should be allowed to fly," Barnes explains. "Every hour in a Soviet airplane was precious. We did not have spare parts. We could not afford unnecessary wear and tear. Usually a pilot would train for at least two weeks before flying a MiG. Instead, General Bond got a briefing while sitting inside the plane with an instructor pilot saying, 'Do this, do that.'" In other words, instead of undergoing two weeks of training, General Bond pulled rank. should be allowed to fly," Barnes explains. "Every hour in a Soviet airplane was precious. We did not have spare parts. We could not afford unnecessary wear and tear. Usually a pilot would train for at least two weeks before flying a MiG. Instead, General Bond got a briefing while sitting inside the plane with an instructor pilot saying, 'Do this, do that.'" In other words, instead of undergoing two weeks of training, General Bond pulled rank.

Just a few hours later, General Bond was seated in the c.o.c.kpit of the MiG, flying high over Groom Lake. All appeared to be going well, but just as he crossed over into the Nevada Test Site, Bond radioed the tower on an emergency channel. "I'm out of control," General Bond said in distress. The MiG was going approximately Mach 2.5. "I've got to get out, I'm out of control" were the general's last words were the general's last words. The MiG had gone into a spin and was on its way down. Bond ejected from the airplane but was apparently killed when his helmet strap broke his neck. The general and the airplane crashed into Area 25 at Jacka.s.s Flats, where the land was still highly contaminated from the secret NERVA tests that had gone on there.

General Bond's death opened the possible exposure of five secret programs and facilities, including the MiG program, the F-117 program, Area 51, Area 52, and the nuclear reactor explosions at Jacka.s.s Flats. Unlike the deaths of CIA pilots flying out of Area 51, which could be concealed as generic training accidents, the death of a general required detailed explanation. If the press asked too many questions, it could trigger a federal investigation. One program had to come out of the dark to keep the others hidden. The Pentagon made the decision to out the MiG. Quietly, Fred Hoffman, a military writer Fred Hoffman, a military writer with the a.s.sociated Press, was "leaked" information that Bond had in fact died at the controls of a Soviet MiG-23. The emphasis was put on how the Pentagon was able to obtain Soviet-bloc aircraft and weaponry from allies in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. "The government has always been reluctant to discuss such acquisitions for fear of embarra.s.sing the friendly donors, but the spotlight was turned anew on the subject after a three-star Air Force general was killed April 26 in a Nevada plane crash that was quickly cloaked in secrecy," Hoffman wrote, adding "sources who spoke on condition they remain anonymous have indicated the MiG-23, the most advanced Soviet warplane ever to fall permanently into U.S. hands, was supplied to this country by Egypt." with the a.s.sociated Press, was "leaked" information that Bond had in fact died at the controls of a Soviet MiG-23. The emphasis was put on how the Pentagon was able to obtain Soviet-bloc aircraft and weaponry from allies in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. "The government has always been reluctant to discuss such acquisitions for fear of embarra.s.sing the friendly donors, but the spotlight was turned anew on the subject after a three-star Air Force general was killed April 26 in a Nevada plane crash that was quickly cloaked in secrecy," Hoffman wrote, adding "sources who spoke on condition they remain anonymous have indicated the MiG-23, the most advanced Soviet warplane ever to fall permanently into U.S. hands, was supplied to this country by Egypt."

With this partial cover, the secrets of Area 51, Area 52, Area 25, and the F-117 were safe. It would be another four years before the public had any idea the F-117 Nighthawk existed. In November of 1988, a grainy image of the arrowhead-shaped, futuristic-looking craft was released to an awestruck public despite the fact that variations of the F-117 had been flying at Area 51 and Area 52 for eleven years at Area 51 and Area 52 for eleven years.

By 1974, the Agency had ceded control of Area 51. Some insiders say the transition occurred in 1979, but since Area 51 does not officially exist, the Air Force won't officially say when this handover occurred. Certainly this had to have happened by the time the stealth bomber program was up and running; the F-117 program was the holy grail of Pentagon black projects-and, during that time period, the Air Force dominated Area 51. Having no business in bombs, the CIA maintained a much smaller presence there than historically it had before. During the 1970s, the Agency's work concentrated largely on pilotless aircraft, or drones. Hank Meierdierck, the man who wrote the manual for the U-2 at Area 51, was in charge of one such CIA drone project, which began in late 1969. Code-named Aquiline Code-named Aquiline, the six-foot-long pilotless aircraft was disguised to look like an eagle or buzzard in flight. It carried a small television camera in its nose and photo equipment and air-sampling sensors under its wings. Some insiders say it had been designed to test for radiation in the air as well as to gather electronic intelligence, or ELINT. But Gene Poteat, the first CIA officer ever a.s.signed to the National Reconnaissance Office, offers a different version of events. "Spy satellites flying over the Caspian Sea delivered us images of an oddly shaped, giant, multi-engined watercraft moving around down there on the surface. No one had any idea what this thing was for, but you can be sure the Agency wanted to find out. That is what the original purpose of Aquiline original purpose of Aquiline was for," Poteat reveals. "To take close-up pictures of the vehicle so we could discern what it was and what the Soviets might be thinking of using it for. Since we had no idea what it was, we made up a name for it. We called it the Caspian Sea Monster," Poteat explains. Project Aquiline remains a cla.s.sified project, but in September of 2008, was for," Poteat reveals. "To take close-up pictures of the vehicle so we could discern what it was and what the Soviets might be thinking of using it for. Since we had no idea what it was, we made up a name for it. We called it the Caspian Sea Monster," Poteat explains. Project Aquiline remains a cla.s.sified project, but in September of 2008, BBC News BBC News magazine produced a story about a magazine produced a story about a Cold War Soviet hydrofoil named Ekranopian Cold War Soviet hydrofoil named Ekranopian, which is exactly what the CIA's Aquiline drone was designed to spy on.

At Area 51, Hank Meierdierck selected his former hunting partner Jim Freedman to a.s.sist him on the Aquiline drone Jim Freedman to a.s.sist him on the Aquiline drone program. "It flew low and was meant to follow along communication lines in foreign countries and intercept messages," Freedman says. "I believe the plan was to launch it from a submarine while it was waiting in port." The Aquiline team consisted of three pilots trained to remotely control the bird, with Freedman offering operational support. "Hank got the thing to fly," Freedman recalls. Progress was slow and "it crash-landed a lot." The program ended when the defense contractor, McDonnell Douglas, gave a bid for the job that Meierdierck felt was program. "It flew low and was meant to follow along communication lines in foreign countries and intercept messages," Freedman says. "I believe the plan was to launch it from a submarine while it was waiting in port." The Aquiline team consisted of three pilots trained to remotely control the bird, with Freedman offering operational support. "Hank got the thing to fly," Freedman recalls. Progress was slow and "it crash-landed a lot." The program ended when the defense contractor, McDonnell Douglas, gave a bid for the job that Meierdierck felt was ninety-nine million dollars over budget ninety-nine million dollars over budget. McDonnell Douglas would not budge on their bid so Hank recommended that the CIA cancel Project Aquiline, which he said they did. After the program was over, Hank Meierdierck managed to take a mock-up of the Aquiline drone home with him from the area. "He had it sitting on his bar at his house down in Las Vegas," Freedman recalls.

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Area 51 Part 8 summary

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