Most Shared

4 fascinating things we already know about Area 51, and 1 thing we don't.

We don't know everything, but we know more than you might think.

4 fascinating things we already know about Area 51, and 1 thing we don't.

It's pretty much a fact that when you try to hide something, it only makes people a lot more interested in it.

Kind of like this photo of Beyoncé:


Love you, Bey. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

Which Bey's publicist genuinely tried to hide from the Internet. Yet, on the Internet it remains — where people have photoshopped it into pretty hilarious memes.

Of course, there's pretty much nothing more hidden behind layers of mystery and intrigue than Area 51.

Located in Southern Nevada, the 60-square-mile Air Force facility is one of the most secret and conspiracy-riddled locations on Earth.

Photo from Simon Johansson/Wikimedia Commons.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently brought Area 51 back into the spotlight when she jokingly promised to "get to the bottom" of the various UFO conspiracies surrounding it if elected. Jokes aside, that statement made Clinton one of the few public officials to officially acknowledge the base, jokingly or otherwise, in recent years.

In fact, when President Obama made a joke about Area 51 at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2013, he became the first president to publicly mention it. Ever! Despite the base being around since (roughly) the 1940s. Before that, information on Area 51 was either ignored or redacted.

What many people don't realize, however, is that thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, over the past few years, not only has Area 51 been officially recognized by the United States government, but a lot of information about it has already been revealed.

Without further ado...

1. We do actually know what Area 51 looks like.

That may seem obvious, but information on Area 51, historically, has been so sparse that photos of it have only recently been seen by the public.

Satellite imagery of the base was routinely deleted from government databases. In 1973, astronauts aboard Skylab 4 inadvertently photographed Area 51 and immediately had their pictures censored by the CIA.

Now, in the technologically advanced world of 2016, you can hop on Google Maps and look at Area 51 all you want.

It looks like this:

Photo from NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

See? No aliens.

It's just a bunch of runways and aircraft hangars. I know what you're thinking: "THE ALIENS ARE IN THE HANGARS, DUMMY!"

First of all, stop yelling.

Second of all, yes, I'll admit it'd be cool to see inside those hangars. But ... even if you did, all you'd probably see are a couple classified airplanes and helicopters alongside some government R&D contractors.

Why do I think that? Because...

2. We built the U-2 spy plane there.

Thanks to recently declassified data, we now know that the U-2 spy plane was largely developed and built at Area 51 in the 1950s.

The U-2 spy plane was, of course, built to help our nation more effectively spy on Irish rock band U2.

We're watching you guys. Always. Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

OK not really.

The U-2 spy plane was an early reconnaissance craft used by the CIA to gather high-altitude data during the Cold War. The U.S. still uses U-2s, though they've been upgraded significantly over the years.

A U-2 spy plane in 1997. Photo by U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons.

The current U-2, named the "U-2S" was used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The "S" at the end of its name also reveals that the CIA apparently gets its upgrade nomenclature from Apple's iPhone. Or maybe it's the other way around? Add that to the conspiracy list.

3. Area 51 is actually where we flew some of the first drones.

Unmanned drones are now ubiquitous in both war zones and the backyards of GoPro hobbyists. But before you could buy one at RadioShack to spy on your neighbors, they were researched, developed, and flown at Area 51 in the early 1960s.

That's right! Drones are as old as nondairy creamer (which is similar to Area 51 itself, in that you really shouldn't ask too many questions about what's in it).

The first drone was called the Lockheed D-21 and had to be launched on the back of another aircraft:


The D-21 mounted on an M-21 launch jet. Photo by U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons.

Like a baby koala! Only deadlier.

Several test launches were necessary to get the drone program off the ground (literally), and recently declassified data reveals that a lot of those early test flights occurred at Area 51.

4. We kept a lot of our stolen stuff at Area 51.

If you steal something from someone, you have to hide it somewhere. Like a shoebox under your bed.

Area 51 was, and probably remains, America's shoebox.

When foreign technology is captured during war time, it's a good idea to hold onto it. That way, you can examine it and figure out its weaknesses or use it to improve your own technology.

When Soviet MiG planes were captured during the Cold War, we took them to Area 51 to check them out. We also used Area 51 to examine and exploit foreign radar systems.

A soviet MiG-17 airplane. Photo from U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are tactical moves that necessitate secrecy. You don't want your enemies finding out you have their stuff, let alone that you're thoroughly investigating it for weaknesses and loopholes.

Of course, the Russians were doing the same thing to us. It was the Cold War after all.

The nature of Area 51 as America's shoebox of stolen and hidden foreign aircraft is the one fact that does feed into the alien conspiracies more than the other things we know about it. If a UFO really did crash in Roswell, Area 51 is probably where the government would take it.

Although, if they really didn't want anyone to see it, they would've hidden it at a James Franco art show. No one goes to those.

So, yeah, we actually do know a lot about Area 51's history.

As time goes on, more and more information will probably be revealed, declassified, and demystified. If there was a giant alien cover-up in 1947, it won't stay hidden forever. Although, if one day all the information about Area 51 was suddenly released at once, my guess is the reaction would be a unanimous, "Oh, they just built planes there mostly."

That being said, there is one important thing we still don't know about Area 51.

Which brings me to...

5. OK, conspiracy theorists. You win this one. We don't actually know what's going on at Area 51 right now.

What's happening at the base right now in 2016 remains a mystery covered by the highest level of government clearance, which means Area 51 is essentially a huge black hole of American military spending and government secrecy.

America spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined. So you can be sure that the government is probably still developing a lot of stuff at Area 51. Stuff that "we, the people" might not know about until it's already being used in a military conflict or is declassified decades later.

A U.S. Blackhawk Helicopter. Largely believed to have been developed at Area 51. Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

Some have alleged that the Blackhawk helicopters used in the Osama Bin Laden raid were developed there.

That's good.

Others have asserted that Area 51 was used to dump illegal and extremely dangerous amounts of chemical waste. Which may have led to the death of workers there.

That's not good.

For now, both theories are surrounded in, and in turn protected by, the overwhelming secrecy afforded to the mysterious base in Groom Lake, Nevada.

Though I certainly wish that we lived in a world that didn't necessitate government secrets, the fact is ... we don't. So we're just going to have to wait until all the goings on at Area 51 are slowly-but-surely declassified.

Until then though, ease off the alien stuff.

Unless ... wait a minute ...

WHAT IF THEY'RE BEING KEPT UNDER THE BASE?!

via Pixabay

Talking about politics at work can be a really touchy situation. It's good for people to be able to express themselves in the office. But it can lead to serious tension when people don't see eye-to-eye. It can be especially difficult when a company takes a hard line on a controversial issue that employees are forced to stand behind.

So Basecamp, a project management software company based in Chicago, has just decided to ban talking about politics at work altogether. It seems the company tried to foster an open atmosphere but it backfired.

"Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant," co-founder Jason Fried wrote in a post on the company website.

Keep Reading Show less
via Pixabay

Talking about politics at work can be a really touchy situation. It's good for people to be able to express themselves in the office. But it can lead to serious tension when people don't see eye-to-eye. It can be especially difficult when a company takes a hard line on a controversial issue that employees are forced to stand behind.

So Basecamp, a project management software company based in Chicago, has just decided to ban talking about politics at work altogether. It seems the company tried to foster an open atmosphere but it backfired.

"Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant," co-founder Jason Fried wrote in a post on the company website.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."