Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NASA vs Military Over Area 51 Snaps

Call it Paradise Ranch, Watertown Strip, Area 51, Dreamland, or Area S1, the no-longer so top-secret US military (aircraft?) research and development facility at Groom Lake, Nevada, has long been the subject of much popular conjecture, debate, Hollywood fancy and documentary, and tin-hat conspiracy talk of UFOs, aliens, hypersonic air travel, genetic experiment, time travel etc.

In the 1970s, NASA astronauts inadvertantly photographed the facility that doesn't exist from the SkyLab space station.

It had previously been agreed that the CIA-run National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) would review all photographs of earth taken by astronauts (the agreement is still confidential today so no word on whether this includes astronauts' family and holiday snaps....) but Groom Lake was then (and probably still is) so secret that even those working at NPIC didn't have the clearance required to know anything about most of the things going on at the facility.

"There was a certain irony in NPIC photo-interpreters discovering photographs of Groom Lake, because even within NPIC’s Building 303 Groom Lake was classified. Images of Groom were removed from rolls of spy satellite film and stored in a restrictive vault."

As a result of Groom Lake's classification and the fact that NASA only had a relatively loose relationship with the military, quite an interesting story transpired and it is now told for the first time.

As the article points out, Groom Lake was not completely secret, especially to astronauts, who were all Air Force pilots and, flying out of Nellis AFB, knew all about both the existence of Groom Lake and that flying within its airspace was expressly verboten.

The article poses an interesting question: if the astronauts knew the facility existed, knew how secret it was, and KNEW they were not supposed to photograph it, why did they do so?

The logical conclusion could be that something made it interesting enough to risk doing...

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