The last official census was conducted in the year 2000, which showed that there is an official resident population of 27 souls on the island. There is a station that still operates on the island as a radar station, which has around 180 staff and personnel. At the island's peak in the 1960s, there were north of 1500 workers there, primarily around the creation of a permanent military base that served as a crucial place during the cold war.
Shemya Island is a small island in the Smeichi islands group of the Near Islands chain which is located in the Aleutian islands Archipelago, situated just southwest of Alaska. The Russian vessel Saint Peter and Paul was wrecked near Shemya in 1762, with most of the crew surviving. This is the first recorded European visit to the island. In 1943, a United States Air Force radar, weather station, and surveillance station opened in Shemya. It also includes a 3000-meter-long runway and an aircraft refueling station, which are still operational today. In 1956, Northwest Airlines leased Shemya Island from the United States government to use as a station to refuel its planes on the North Pacific route. Northwest Airlines was the first airline to operate its airport.
The United States Air Force platforms Cobra Ball, Rivet Ball, and Rivet Amber flew ICBM missiles tracking the flights from this island near the Soviet Union during the period known as the Cold War. The observations from Shemya island were one of the first radar reports of any new satellite launches since the early days of satellite tracking. The radar station was eventually renamed Eareckson Air Station in 1993 to honor Colonel William Eareckson who had commanded operations during the Aleutian Campaign in the Second World War. The station has a recognizable feature, the COBRA DANE radar system, which was built in 1976. It was eventually brought online in 1977 to gather intelligence in support of the SALT II agreements.
One of the most important outposts of the Cold War, Shemya island was a very important base for tracking the movements of the Soviet Union. Because of the runway, there have been a few notable commercial flights that were diverted to Shemya island, with the most recent being Polar Air Cargo Flight 717 which made an emergency landing on March 13, 2020. The first known emergency landing was by China Eastern Airlines Flight 583 at the island's airbase on April 6, 1993.
The RAA (Reeve Aleutian Airways) had operated a scheduled passenger service on Shemya island for numerous years. During the late 20th century, Reeve Airways operated nonstop flights into Anchorage via this island. The airline was operating a nonstop jet service with the Boeing 727-100 combi aircraft to Anchorage which transported passengers and freight on the main deck of the aircraft. Although this was a successful venture, Reeve Aleutian Airways had to cease all airline and flight operations in the year 2000.