Obama Becomes First President to Acknowledge ‘Area 51’

But are there aliens?

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Kristoffer Tripplaar/ Sipa Press / Getty Images

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attend the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors on December 8, 2013 in Washington, DC.

President Barack Obama on Sunday likely became the first actual President to publicly acknowledge Area 51, the top-secret government testing ground that has become a focal point for generations of extraterrestrial enthusiasts.

Actress Shirley MacLaine, who has claimed to have seen many UFOs, received Kennedy Center Honors in a ceremony on Sunday for her lifetime contributions to the performing arts. The President couldn’t resist the opportunity to joke about the decades of conspiracy theories surrounding mysterious lights and aliens at the Nevada installation.

“Now, when you first become President, one of the questions that people ask you is what’s really going on in Area 51,” Obama quipped at a reception honoring the awardees. “When I wanted to know, I’d call Shirley MacLaine. I think I just became the first President to ever publicly mention Area 51. How’s that, Shirley?”

The official use for the Nevada Test and Training Range and Groom Lake — the formal name for the facility commonly known as Area 51 — is far less otherworldly. It’s been the testing ground for government programs, including the U-2 spy plane and various stealth aircraft.

The other 2013 performing-arts honorees were opera singer Martina Arroyo, jazz legend Herbie Hancock, rocker Billy Joel and guitarist Carlos Santana.