Area 51 has long been a subject of fascination for conspiracy theorists and fans of the paranormal, but the newly released CIA documents have officially recognized its existence, revealing that the site served a purpose that is far less exciting than many had imagined. The ‘revelation’ is that the secret (a rather open secret at that) Area 51 was the test site for the U-2 strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was one of the symbols of the Cold War. For the first time, the veil has been lifted from some of the mystery that has always surrounded Area 51. Perhaps, some UFO and extraterrestrial culture enthusiasts will have been rather disappointed, because the U.S. government has finally admitted that, in fact, the Nevada base was used to conduct secret experiments, which, however, had no reference to alien life forms. Fans of aerospace engineering, materials science and the Cold War were very pleased as the documents released under the Freedom of Information Act offered unprecedented insight into the development of the U-2 spy plane designed by the U.S. in 1955. At the time, that aircraft was so innovative and cutting edge that it was imbued with its own aura of mystery. That level of technology was one of the reasons that the UFO crowd was so keen on finding evidence for their beliefs at Area 51.
Area 51 became the center of operations and development of the U-2 but its construction was contacted to the all too human managed and staffed Lockheed Corporation (now merged into Lockheed Martin). That company’s CEO, Robert Stevens, may be earning a rather stellar 22 million dollar/year salary, but he is still very much an earthling. The CIA report, entitled “Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and Oxcart Programs”, also includes details concerning the layout of the site and the rather aptly named “Paradise Ranch’, a structure built to house workers. Sadly, the report made no mention of spacecrafts form other planets or autopsies of ‘little green men’. It turns out that Area 51 was just a military-style experimental operations center.
Many will be disappointed; they include those who had come to see the area has been a Mecca for UFO enthusiasts. Nevertheless, given the ‘true believer’ nature of those subscribing to theories that the Earth has been visited by beings from other parts of the universe – fueled by the US government’s attempts to cover up the purpose and existence of Area 51 – the recent disclosure of related information will do little to dampen their enthusiasm. Indeed, the confirmation that secret and new technologies were being developed at Area 51 will only augment their conviction that beings flying around in unidentified flying objects – or UFOs – were responsible for sharing the science needed to achieve that technology with humans. While the astronomical evidence has increasingly shown that there are other ‘solar systems’ with the potential for life throughout the Milky Way and in other galaxies, we should not be so quick to dismiss the UFO culture.
For the time being, it turns out that we humans may be the ‘aliens’. The alien invasion has begun; exploration probes have landed on planet surfaces and it is only a matter of time that living beings aboard spaceships arrive. Only, the aliens look a lot like us and the probes are inscribed with familiar NASA signs bearing such names as ‘Curiosity’ sent to prepare for our inevitable visit to Mars. The idea of visits from outer space is not new; cinema and movies have merely popularized it and given it its iconography and the idea of a’ Martian’ attack or even friendly intergalactic visits. The discoveries made possible by NASA’s Curiosity will also materialize other facets of UFO culture, only in reverse. Some on earth see Mars as a future outlet for a growing human population; others see business opportunities. In fact, Mars, and two of its moons in particular, are potentially rich in rare metals and other raw materials that we need here on Earth. Of course it’s hard to reach them, but it is not impossible and soon technology will devise a way to send a return mission to the red planet. One hundred years ago it was considered impossible to go to the moon, and we went there. Mars is the new frontier for humans just as America was that frontier and new world for Europeans in the 16th century. Those powers that colonized it, first Spain, then Portugal, England, France, or Holland became rich, having amassed unprecedented quantities of gold and other precious metals. They also discovered other humans with different traditions, foods and languages. And they immediately tried to conquer and dominate them rather than assimilate. Presumably, aliens were they to visit the earth would act in a similar manner, given that in order to achieve that visit they would need to have a level of technology several orders of magnitude greater than ours.
The CIA’s ‘outing’ of Area 51 will not put an end to speculation of alien influence on earth or UFO’s. If anything it will fuel more speculation, which in a sense is healthy, because it fuels the imagination needed to achieve mankind’s need to develop new technology, increase research, find new worlds and eventually find the other living beings with whom we share the universe. Space travel to other planets is fueled by rare earth magnets, the very same at the heart of ion engines. Indeed, magnets based on samarium cobalt (SmCo) were first tested in October 1998 in NASA’s Deep Space 1. This was the first deep-space mission intended to illustrate the potential of new space exploration technologies.
SmCo magnets are able to withstand high temperature operating environments, which makes them ideal for use in ion engines, the very same that will enable man to turn science fiction into science fact. Thanks to the use of rare earths, what was once merely hinted by Star Trek is within man’s reach. Ion engines will make manned space travel to Mars possible, reducing the time for the trip from the previously expected two years to less than three months. An ion engine uses a fuel source, such as mercury or – more recently – xenon or argon gas, which is then ionized and accelerated through a high temperature magnetic field. The atoms are ‘heated’ and expelled in the form of plasma.
The power to ionize the ‘fuel’ comes directly from the sun. Ion propulsion makes a manned mission to mars far more possible and the technology is already available. NASA has awarded Electron Energy Corporation (EEC), the sole producer of rare earth magnets in North America, a Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) contract to research and develop samarium cobalt (SmCo) high temperature permanent magnets for use in ion propulsion thrust engines. EEC has decades of experience in developing magnets able to operate at high temperatures having worked with the US Air Force and with other US military departments. EEC’s magnets have been tested in the ‘field’ thanks to a satellite, the aforementioned ‘Deep Space 1’, propelled by an ion thrust engine made by Hughes Electron Dynamics. Rare earths are essential components in the future of space exploration.