“Seventy-five miles north of Las Vegas sits a land parcel in the middle of the desert. Called Area 51, the parcel is just outside of the abandoned Nevada Test and Training Range, where more than 100 atmospheric bomb tests were conducted in the 1950s. Officially, the U.S. government has never acknowledged the existence of Area 51. Unofficially, it has become a place associated with conspiracy theories, alien landings and tiny spaceships. Journalist Annie Jacobsen tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that the site has remained classified for many years — not because of aliens or spaceships, but because the government once used the site for top-secret nuclear testing and weapons development. In Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, Jacobsen details how several agencies — including the Atomic Energy Commission, the Department of Defense and the CIA — once used the site to conduct controversial and secretive research on aircraft and pilot-related projects, including planes that traveled three times faster than the speed of sound and nuclear-propelled, space-based missile launch systems. Operation Plumbbob In the summer and fall of 1957, a series of atmospheric nuclear tests — called Operation Plumbbob — were conducted above ground at the Nevada testing and training range, located just outside of Area 51. Twenty-nine explosions were set off while tests were conducted on troop readiness, accidental detonations and the effects of flying debris on living targets, according to documents declassified by the Department of Energy that Jacobsen details in her book. During the explosions, security officer Richard Mingus stood guard outside many of the weapons-testing sites, including one with the largest atmospheric bomb that has ever exploded in the United States. “The bomb goes off. Richard Mingus is at ground zero, safe away in a bunker somewhere, and suddenly someone realizes, ‘My God, Area 51 is unsecured,’ ” Jacobsen says. “And so they send Richard Mingus through ground zero, 45 minutes to an hour after this nuclear bomb has exploded, so that he can get to Area 51 to guard the gate.” Mingus survived, as did many other atomic veterans who stood close to ground zero during other Plumbbob tests. “You can absolutely drive through an atmospheric bomb test and not be affected,” Jacobsen says. “Richard Mingus also stood guard at a test at a subparcel of Area 51 … [during] a dirty bomb test.” During the dirty bomb test, the Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission simulated a plane crash where plutonium was dispersed on the ground, to see what would happen if an aircraft carrying a nuclear weapon were to crash on American soil. The resulting fallout and structural damage made much of the land uninhabitable.” https://text.npr.org/136356848#:~:text=Seventy%2Dfive%20miles,the%20land%20uninhabitable.