The infamous Nevada military base known as Area 51 is one of the most secretive places on earth. Now, a private satellite company has developed something that allows people to fly in and take a look. Investigative reporter George Knapp has the exclusive story. Aired on Feb. 23, 2003, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.
Anyone who’s ever tested the outer perimeter of Area 51 knows about the security cameras and hidden sensors, about the camouflage patrols and ominous signs and armed choppers. But now it’s possible to fly over all those security measures, to slip silently over the mountains, head for the dry lake and take a bird’s-eye view of everything inside Area 51.
This software isn’t a toy, it’s not a video game. It’s the result of high-resolution satellite photos taken by the commercial satellite Ikonos, which was launched into space in 1999 and was hired a year later to photograph this once supposedly non-existent facility.
The satellite images reveal in clear detail that the Groom Lake base is very real.
For Area 51 aficionados, it gets better. The satellite images have been transformed into 3-dimensional software that allows a computer user to soar over the base, hover over any building as if traveling in, say, a flying saucer.
So, is the Pentagon ticked off about this?
Gary Napier works for Space Imagery, the Denver company that owns the Ikonos satellite and which maintains a good relationship with the military.
“I’ve personally have never heard any comments from the U.S. government about Area 51. They’ve been on websites for probably over four years now,” Napier said.
Despite the photos and software, Space Imagery is licensed by the government to take whatever photos it wants to take. Its website contains stunning imagery: the Giza pyramids, the World Trade Center before and after Sept. 11, 2001, a North Korean nuclear reactor, downtown San Francisco, Hoover Dam and the Las Vegas Strip. As with Area 51, these images could be transformed to 3D.
At the base, we can fly down to the building known as Hangar 18, but we still don’t know what’s inside. We can zip down the world’s longest runway and read the numbers painted there. It’s a chance to see the base as never before without spilling classified secrets.
“True photo interpreters don’t want to look at in 3D because the imagery becomes a little degraded,” Napier said. “But the average lay person kind of gets a better experience where the lay person has a better understanding what the environment around Area 51 was like.”
And since it’s unlikely the Air Force will open the gates to Area 51 anytime soon, this version may be the best view anyone has of Groom Lake for a long time.
The I-Team has one of the only copies of the 3D software and Space Imagery says the software will not be sold to the public.