In 1989, Bob Lazar made his famous assertion that he had worked on reverse-engineering alien technology at a secret facility in Nevada called S-4 that was built into a mountainside just south of Area 51’s main site. KLAS investigative reporter George Knapp interviewed Lazar about his out-of-this-world claims. And the world was introduced to Area 51.

This secretive military installation was only officially acknowledged by the CIA in 2013. But Area 51 has been a household name since Lazar’s assertions fueled its rise to pop culture prominence. Not everyone is familiar with the details of the alleged extraterrestrial-related activity at the base. But, to the general public, Area 51 is synonymous with aliens and UFOs.

So what’s the deal with Area 51? Did any alien activity take place there? Is it still happening today? Surprisingly, these questions were explored by a museum exhibit in Las Vegas, Nevada not too long ago.

Area 51 exhibit banner

This exhibit, titled Area 51: Myth or Reality?, launched in March of 2012 at the Smithsonian-affiliated National Atomic Testing Museum. The exhibit came together because former Area 51 employees were looking for a place to share their stories about recently declassified projects that took place at the top secret military installation.

So, naturally, the exhibit featured items related to military aircraft projects that were developed and tested at Area 51 like the U-2 and A-12 spy planes. But it also featured several installations related to alleged extraterrestrial happenings at the base. There was a “George Knapp Room” that highlighted the reporter’s famous interview with Bob Lazar. But the room also featured other items from Knapp’s investigations into UFOs and extraterrestrials, including strange debris labeled “Authentic Alien Artifact.”

The George Knapp Room

This debris, provided to the museum by Knapp, allegedly came from a UFO crash in Russia. The description that accompanies this material states:

“Three Soviet academic centers and 11 research institutes analyzed the objects from this UFO crash. The distance between atoms is different from ordinary iron. Radar cannot be reflected from the material. Elements in the material may disappear and new ones appear after heating. One piece disappeared completely in front of four witnesses. The core of the material is composed of a substance with anti-gravitational properties.”

There were displays highlighting human space exploration and our attempts to communicate with extraterrestrials. There was even an area at the end of the exhibit that invited visitors to share personal UFO sighting stories.

UFO encounter board

The museum hosted special UFO lectures to complement the Area 51 exhibit, including one that featured former military personnel discussing UFOs and the U.S. government’s investigation into these unidentified aerial objects.

Jason McClellan, Maureen Elsberry, and Alejandro Rojas lecturing at the National Atomic Testing Museum.

Unfortunately, the Area 51: Myth or Reality? exhibit closed in November 2015. And he people behind the exhibit are no longer at the museum. But their goal was to stimulate conversation, hoping that people would leave the exhibit thinking seriously about the myths surrounding Area 51 and the need for scientific inquiry into those myths.

**A version of this article first appeared on

About the Author

Jason McClellan is an author, podcaster, TV personality, veteran UFO researcher & journalist, bourbon enthusiast, ska and punk devotee, vegan, and animal lover. You might have seen him on NatGeo, Syfy, History, or at conferences talking about UFOs.

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