If you're a fan of "X-Files," "Roswell" or anything out of this world, a visit to the Atomic Testing Museum's Area 51 display hits the spot.
In the mid-50s, the CIA created Area 51 to test U.S. military projects. The vast desert space made it the ideal location. These military planes traveled so fast (the A-12 being capable of zooming 2,000 miles per hour), that it added to the rumors already circulating about unidentified flying objects. You'll even see an A-12 pressure suit up close.
Read news articles on the first reported UFO sightings, biographies on investigative journalists and information on high-tech test planes that seems far beyond its time. See what you look like in the mirror (from the perspective of an alien) and try on a pair of goggles to have alien eye vision.
One of the most interesting parts of this exhibit is the Milky Way room. Fun fact: The Milky Way extends 100,000 light years across, with earth being 26,000 light years from the center. And just as recently as October 1995, scientists discovered the first planet outside the solar system. Not only does this remind us how small our planet really is, but that life outside Earth is possible.
You can easily spend an hour or two walking around in here. The Area 51 tour is only an additional $6 with admission to the museum.
Imagine opening your history text book from grade school and having the ability to jump inside the pages and experience the events first-hand.
That's what it feels like when you step into the 10,000-square foot National Atomic Testing Museum. In late 1991, Congress chartered the museum as the country's only official atomic museum.An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum houses interactive displays, short films, timelines and real equipment from the former testing site. You can even toy with some gizmos and gadgets, including testing your own radioactivity.
Those visiting Las Vegas in the 1950s probably saw massive mushroom clouds rise from the Nevada Test Site (NTS). NTS was the country’s nuclear testing location just 65 miles outside the city. In fact, some casinos even offered people seats so they could sit and watch.
Operating for almost four decades, from 1951 to 1992, NTS had a total of 928 announced nuclear tests (100 atmospheric, 828 underground) and played a major part in the Cold War. The state no longer conducts these tests, but the National Atomic Testing Museum preserved all of the history, propaganda, controversy and much more.
From testimonies of on-site workers to facts about the Cold War and the bombing at Hiroshima, the museum will make you feel like you've gone back in time. In addition, the wall panels and touch screens throughout the attraction provide answers to the following: Why nuclear weapons? Why was Nevada a major test site? What impact did this type of testing have in Las Vegas in the 1950s? And what role did Albert Einstein play in all of this? If the composition of nuclear bombs sounds too complex, the museum includes a Disney cartoon to help break things down.
One of the most entertaining displays is the pop culture showcase. This includes a Kix cereal box that once contained a toy atomic bomb ring, Atomic Fireball candy, a "Superboy" comic book, a "Peanuts" comic strip and much more. Books include "Survival Under Atomic Attack" and "Atomic Cocktails: Mixed Drinks for Modern Times."
Don't miss the shocking photos as well as footage of the thermonuclear explosion, which frightened observers watching from 30 miles away. Learn about America's biggest hydrogen bomb test, "Bravo," which exploded with a force of 15 megatons, creating a fireball 3.6 miles wide and 6,000 feet across. Now that's what we call "the bomb!"
The world events and pop culture timeline (1940s - 1990s) along the walls is also a fun read and includes information on all of the historical atomic bombings. To get a true feel of an explosion, stick around for the 10-minute movie inside Ground Zero Theatre, designed to look like a bunker. This experience not only takes you back in time with rich history, but you'll feel bursts of air and vibrations from your seat.
Just outside the theater, take a magnifying class and see before/after photos of mannequins exposed to the blast. And just past the underground test area exhibit, there's a button you can press to set off a bomb (don't worry -- it only sets off a scene you'll see on a movie screen). Take a moment to browse through the Today and Tomorrow Gallery, which showcases a piece of the Berlin Wall (symbolizing the end of the Cold War) and World Trade Center artifacts.
Once you exit the museum, stop by the Harry Reid Exhibit Hall, which features all of the temporary exhibitions. The gift shop includes fun and quirky souvenirs, as well as books, toys, apparel, hats and much more.
Even if you’re not much of a science or history buff, a trip to the National Atomic Testing Museum exposes you to so many mind-boggling facts. If you stop and think how close this city was to these kinds of tests, it'll blow your mind.
The museum is located inside the Frank H. Rogers Science and Technology building, only a mile from the Las Vegas Strip. Make sure you allow yourself enough time. The comprehensive museum can easily take two to three hours to walk through.
-- Review by Jeannie Borbe