On February 28, 1995, the Denver International Airport opened its doors and its runways to the general public after falling over a year behind schedule and spending a reported $2 billion more than its original budget had dictated.
The massive new airport didn’t just take up lots of time and money—it also took up a lot of space: two decades later, it’s still the largest airport in the United States by area (53 square miles) with the longest public use runway available in the country (runway 16R/34L is 16,000 feet long—approximately three miles). DIA replaced Denver’s old Stapleton International Airport, which was plagued by problems (runways too close together, a general lack of space for necessary expansion), and its creation helped meet some basic needs that Stapleton simply couldn’t. Denver needed more room to serve the various airlines that had made—and wanted to make—the Mile High City a hub of operations, and DIA did just that.
That all sounds normal enough, right? A city needed a new airport, and it got one, even though it took a lot more money and time than originally planned, as so often happens with large-scale public works (although there is some debate as to who actually funded the airport, but we’ll get to that). But for the last 20 years, people have wondered if DIA—giant, expensive, strange DIA—is home to something far more sinister ... like a conspiracy. Or a lot of conspiracies.
1. The Runway Shape
Although one of the underlying themes of the various conspiracy theories regarding DIA holds that Stapleton was a fine airport and didn’t need to be replaced, there is one inarguable point: the runways at Stapleton were not smartly laid out. The parallel runways were too close together for safe landing in bad weather, which happened around 150 days a year and cut the number of arrivals an hour from 80 to 36. DIA doesn’t have the same problem, but it does have something far more nefarious: a shape that many people have noticed looks curiously like a swastika, at least from the air. Taken on its own, such a shape could be brushed off as being just a really terrible piece of planning, but combined with everything else, it all looks very odd indeed.
2. The Markings
The airport bears a series of “strange” markings on its floors that some people believe symbolize a new strain of hepatitis that could be used in biological warfare. In reality, most of the symbols are taken from Navajo language or are pulled from the periodic table of elements.
3. The Dedication Marker
There is one very weird marker that’s hard to ignore: a dedication marker and capstone that’s been placed over a time capsule (which supposedly includes a credit card, Colorado flag, and DIA opening day newspapers, among many other things) that is set to be opened in 2094. The symbols on the marker are associated with the Freemasons, a charitable organization that is often subject to their own conspiracy theories. The marker also mentions the “New World Airport Commission,”an organization that doesn’t actually exist (or does it? our brains are spinning!) but appears to be taking credit for building the entire airport. However, the contributors listed as part of the so-called NWAC, including an architecture firm and a metal company, do exist. And they just make buildings and metals. Well, probably.
4. and 5. The Tunnels and the Underground Bunker
The airport is home to a number of tunnels, including a tram that goes between concourses and a failed automated baggage system. That all sounds normal enough, but there is definitely something weird about that automated baggage system—mainly, that it cost a lot of money and then never actually worked. The system, which failed pretty spectacularly when it was first tested and just never got better, was one of the reasons for DIA's delayed opening. By 2005, most of the airport’s concourses had abandoned it totally, making both its bloated price and long delays feel like even more of a failure—or at least a really weird way to cover up the building of tunnels.
But where do the tunnels go? Perhaps to some kind of underground bunker? Most of the people who believe in the various conspiracy theories regarding DIA seem to think that the airport is actually the headquarters for something far nastier than just an airport—like the New World Order or our own American government. This idea might sound pretty wild—just because the place is big? just because of all that weird stuff in the airport?—but there is something very strange to back it up: buried buildings.
As the story goes, when DIA was first being built, five massive buildings were built somehow incorrectly. Instead of being blown up or otherwise dismantled, they were buried. Although theorists say that a construction worker ultimately blew the whistle on this very weird practice, finding his original testimony on the subject is almost impossible.
BONUS: The Horse Statue and the Weird Murals
Conspiracy theories aside, it’s hard to deny the weirdness of DIA’s unofficial mascot—a massive horse statue called “Blue Mustang” that has already killed at least one man. At 32 feet tall and 9000 pounds (it’s made out of fiberglass), “Blue Mustang” is huge and imposing, and its glowing red eyes don’t help matters. This thing is giant and really scary—and it killed the man who made it. Really. Artist Luis Jimenez died in 2006 when a piece of the sculpture’s head broke off and severed an artery in his leg.
Leo Tanguma’s two murals, which take up wide swathes of wallspace in DIA’s baggage claim, might have some nice names—they are called “Children of the World Dream of Peace” and “In Peace and Harmony with Nature,” respectively—but their actual content is terrifying. Death-masked soldiers stalk children with guns, animals are dead and kept under glass, and the entire world looks to have been destroyed. As if being at the airport isn’t bad enough.
To his credit, the narrative of Tanguma’s murals ends on a happy note—with all that peace and harmony stuff—and the artist himself has said, “I have children sleeping amid the debris of war and this warmonger is killing the dove of peace, but the kids are dreaming of something better in the future and their little dream goes behind the general and continues behind this group of people, and the kids are dreaming that [peace] will happen someday. See how the little dream becomes something really beautiful, that someday the nations of the world will abandon war and come together.” Still, the last place anyone wants to see depictions of death and destruction in an airport.
If you were born after the Apollo program, and maybe even if you remember those days, it seems almost unbelievable that NASA sent manned missions to the moon 239,000 miles away. People continue to express sadness at the fact that the Apollo lunar missions were so long ago, and that soon there will be no one left alive who actually went to the moon. we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, now is the perfect time to remember—or get to know—the only 12 people who ever walked on a body other than planet Earth.
1. Neil Armstrong
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Navy test pilot, engineer, and Korean War veteran Neil Armstrong left the Navy in 1952, but continued in the Naval Reserve. He worked as an experimental test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) beginning in 1955, which evolved into NASA. Armstrong was assigned as an astronaut in 1962, and flew on the Gemini 8 mission in 1966, where he performed the first successful space docking procedure. Armstrong was selected to be the first man to walk on the moon, as the Apollo 11 mission was planned, for several reasons: he was the commander of the mission, he didn't have a big ego, and the door of the lunar lander was on his side. Although the first steps on the moon are what he will always be known for, Armstrong considered the mission's biggest accomplishment was landing the lunar module. He later said,
Pilots take no special joy in walking: pilots like flying. Pilots generally take pride in a good landing, not in getting out of the vehicle.
Armstrong along with his crew were honored with parades, awards, and acclaim after their return to Earth, but Armstrong always gave credit to the entire NASA team for the Apollo moon missions. He resigned from NASA in 1971 and became a professor of of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati for eight years. Armstrong served on the boards of many corporations and foundations, but gradually withdrew from publicity tours and autograph signings. He didn't particularly care for fame.
“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”
2. Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin
After graduating third in his class at West Point in 1951 with a degree in science, Buzz Aldrin flew 66 combat missions as an Air Force pilot in the Korean War. Then he earned a PhD at MIT. Aldrin joined NASA as an astronaut in 1963. In 1966 he flew in the Gemini 12 spacecraft on the final Gemini mission.
Aldrin accompanied Neil Armstrong on the first moon landing in the Apollo 11 mission, becoming the second person, and now the first of the living astronauts, to set foot on the moon. Aldrin had taken a home Communion kit with him, and took Communion on the lunar surface, but did not broadcast the fact. Aldrin retired from NASA in 1971 and from the Air Force in 1972. He later suffered from clinical depression and wrote about the experience, but recovered with treatment. Aldrin has co-authored five books about his experiences and the space program, plus two novels. Aldrin, who is now 89 years old, continues to work to promote space exploration.
3. Charles "Pete" Conrad
Astronaut Charles 'Pete' Conrad stands next to the Surveyor 3 lunar lander on the Moon, during NASA's Apollo 12 lunar landing mission, November 1969.
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Pete Conrad was a Princeton graduate and Navy test pilot before entering the astronaut corps in 1962. He flew on the Gemini V mission and was commander of Gemini XI. Conrad was commander of the Apollo 12 mission, launched during a lightning storm which temporarily knocked out the command module's power shortly after liftoff. When Conrad stepped onto the moon, he said,
Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me.
Conrad later flew on the Skylab 2 mission as commander with the first crew to board the space station. He retired from NASA and the Navy in 1973, after which he worked for American Television and Communications Company and then for McDonnell Douglas.
Pete Conrad died on July 8, 1999 in a motorcycle accident. He was 69.
4. Alan L. Bean
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Apollo astronaut Alan Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon, during the Apollo 12 mission in 1969. He was the lunar module pilot. Bean was also the commander of the Skylab Mission II in 1973, which spent 59 days in flight. Altogether, Bean logged 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in space. Bean is the only artist to have visited another world, so his paintings of the lunar environment have the authenticity of an eyewitness. He retired from the Navy with the rank of Captain, but continued to train astronauts at NASA until 1981, when he retired to devote time to his art.
Bean died on May 26, 2018 at the age of 86.
5. Alan Shepard
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Alan Shepard was a bona-fide space pioneer who cemented his spot in history long before the Apollo program. A U.S. Navy test pilot, he was selected as one of the original Mercury astronauts in 1959. Shepard was the first American launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 spacecraft on May 5, 1961. His suborbital flight reached an altitude of 116 miles.
Barred from flight during the Gemini program because of an inner ear problem, Shepard had the problem fixed surgically and was assigned as commander of the Apollo 14 mission to the moon. He was responsible for the most accurate lunar module landing ever, and spent 9 hours and 17 minutes exploring the moon's surface outside the module. During that time, he famously knocked a couple of golf balls with a six-iron attached to his sample-collecting tool. With one arm (due to the space suit), he managed to drive further than professional golfers on Earth could ever hope to, thanks to the moon's lower gravity.
Before and after his Apollo mission, Shepard served as Chief of the Astronaut Office. He retired from NASA and the Navy in 1974, having achieved the rank of Rear Admiral. Shepard went into private business, serving on the board of several corporations and foundations. He founded Seven Fourteen Enterprises, an umbrella corporation named after his two space missions. Shepard wrote a book with Deke Slayton, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon. Shepard compared his book to The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, saying, "'We wanted to call ours 'The Real Stuff,' since his was just fiction.''
Alan Shepard died on July 21, 1998 at the age of 74.
6. Edgar D. Mitchell
Ed Mitchell joined the Navy in 1952 and became a test pilot. Then he earned a PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT. NASA selected him for the astronaut corps in 1966. In January of 1971, Mitchell flew on Apollo 14 as lunar module pilot, becoming the sixth man to walk on the lunar surface. He retired in 1972 and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which explores psychic and paranormal events. Mitchell gained some notoriety after NASA for his views on UFOs, as he has asserted that the government is covering up evidence at Roswell. His information, he admitted, came secondhand from various sources.
Mitchell died on February 4, 2016, the eve of the 45th anniversary of his lunar landing.
7. David Scott
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David Scott joined the Air Force after graduating from West Point. Selected as an astronaut in 1963, he flew with Neil Armstrong on the Gemini 8 mission and was command module pilot on Apollo 9. Scott then went to the moon on Apollo 15, which landed on the lunar surface on July 30, 1971. It was the first mission to land near mountains. Scott and Jim Irwin spent 18 hours exploring the lunar landscape in the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the first mission to use such a vehicle to travel on the moon.
Scott became famous for the "postage stamp incident," in which he took unauthorized postage stamp covers to the moon with the intent to sell them afterwards. NASA had turned a blind eye to such activities before, but publicity over the matter caused them to discipline Scott and he never flew again. Scott retired from NASA in 1977 and served as a consultant for several movies and TV shows about the space program. He also wrote a book with former cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race.
Air Force test pilot James Irwin became an astronaut in 1966. He was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 15 in 1971. His 18.5 hours of lunar surface exploration included gathering many samples of rocks. The astronauts' medical conditions were being monitored from Earth, and they noticed Irwin developing symptoms of heart trouble. As he was breathing 100% oxygen and under lower gravity than on Earth, mission control decided he was in the best environment possible for such irregularity -under the circumstances. Irwin's heart rhythm was normal by the time Apollo 15 returned to Earth, but he had a heart attack a few months later. Irwin retired from NASA and the Air Force (with the rank of Colonel) in 1972 and founded the High Flight Foundation in order to spread the Christian gospel during the last twenty years of his life. He notably took several groups on expeditions to Mt. Ararat to search for Noah's Ark.
James Irwin died on August 8, 1991, of a heart attack. He was 61 years old.
9. John Watts Young
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John Young is so far the longest serving astronaut in NASA history. He was selected as an astronaut in 1962 and his first space flight was in 1965 aboard Gemini 3 with Gus Grissom. He achieved some notoriety at that time by smuggling a corned beef sandwich onto the flight, angering NASA. But Young went on to complete a total of six space missions in the Gemini, Apollo, and the space shuttle programs. He orbited the moon on the Apollo 10 mission, then was commander of the Apollo 16 mission and became the ninth person to walk on the moon. Young was also commander of the first space shuttle flight in 1981 and returned for shuttle flight 9 in 1983, which deployed the first Spacelab module. Young was also scheduled for another space shuttle flight in 1986, which was delayed after the Challenger disaster, so the veteran astronaut never made his seventh flight. Young finally retired from NASA after 42 years of service in 2004.
John Young died on January 5, 2018 at the age of 87 following complications with pneumonia.
Astronaut Charles Duke was capcom during the Apollo 11 mission. His is the voice you recall saying, "Roger, Twank... Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!" when the lunar module landed on the moon. Duke also made history by catching German measles while training in the backup crew for the Apollo 13 mission, exposing the crew to the disease and causing Ken Mattingly to be replaced by Jack Swigart on that terrifying spaceflight. Duke went to the moon (with Mattingly as command module pilot) on the Apollo 16 mission in April of 1972. He retired from NASA in 1975 having reached the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force, and founded Duke Investments. Duke also became a Christian and a lay minister to prison inmates.
Charles Duke is 83 years old.
11. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt
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Jack Schmitt was a geologist first, and trained as a pilot only after becoming a NASA astronaut. In fact, he was only the second civilian to fly into space, after Neil Armstrong, who was a veteran at the time of his flights. Schmitt was assigned to fly to the moon on the Apollo 18 mission, but when the Apollo 18 and 19 missions were cancelled in September of 1970, the scientific community lobbied to have Schmitt reassigned to Apollo 17 (replacing Joe Engle) as lunar module pilot. He was the first scientist in outer space. On the Apollo 17 mission, he and Gene Cernan spent three days on the lunar surface (a record) and drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle around collecting samples, conducting experiments, and leaving measuring instruments behind. Schmitt and Cernan gathered 250 pounds of lunar material to take back.
After resigning from NASA in 1975, Schmitt, a Republican, was elected Senator for New Mexico and served from 1977 to 1983. He became an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and lives in Silver City, New Mexico. In recent years, Dr. Schmitt's scientific background and political leanings have kept him in the spotlight as he has said that the concept of climate change is "a red herring," and that environmentalism is linked with communism.
Jack Schmitt is 84 years old.
12. Eugene E. Cernan
As a Navy pilot, Gene Cernan logged over 5,000 hours flying time. He was accepted into the astronaut program in 1963. Cernan's first space flight was on Gemini IX in 1966, in which he conducted extravehicular activities (a space walk), followed by the Apollo 10 mission in May of 1969, which orbited the moon. Cernan was assigned commander of the Apollo 17 mission before anyone knew it would be the last Apollo mission. Even after the Apollo program was cut, no one knew for sure that travel to the moon would be abandoned for decades. When Schmitt and Cernan boarded their lunar module for the last time on December 13th, 1972, Cernan said:
"I'm on the surface; and, as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I'd like to just [say] what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."
Cernan retired from the Navy and from NASA in 1976. He went on to found an aerospace technology firm, and wrote a book about his experiences as an astronaut. He also contributed his talents to ABC-TV as a commentator during shuttle flights and has made appearances on various space specials. In September of 2011, Cernan testified before Congress on the future of the space program.
The space program has never been an entitlement, it's an investment in the future - an investment in technology, jobs, international respect and geo-political leadership, and perhaps most importantly in the inspiration and education of our youth. Those best and brightest minds at NASA and throughout the multitudes of private contractors, large and small, did not join the team to design windmills or redesign gas pedals, but to live their dreams of once again taking us where no man has gone before.
For more than 50 years, players have had fun practicing medicine without a license in Operation. The popular tabletop game tasks amateur surgeons with extracting game pieces—foreign objects and body parts—using tweezers without slipping and activating a buzzer that lights up the patient’s nose. (This procedure, which looks to deprive the man of all his important innards, is seemingly performed without anesthesia.) Check out some facts on the game’s history, including its more recent ailments and how it inspired a real-life operation.
1. Operation started as a college project.
John Spinello was an industrial design student at the University of Illinois in the early 1960s. In class one day, he was instructed by his professor to design a game or toy. Remembering an ill-advised moment when he had stuck his finger into a light socket as a child, Spinello came up with a box that had a mild electrical current created by one positive and one negative plate a quarter-inch apart. When players tried to guide a probe through the box’s grooves, they had to be careful not to touch the sides. If they did, the probe would complete the circuit and they’d activate a buzzer.
The game was a hit with Spinello’s fellow students, and Spinello decided to show it to his godfather, Sam Cottone, who worked at a toy design firm named Marvin Glass and Associates. Marvin Glass loved the game and paid Spinello $500 (the equivalent of a little more than $4000 today) for the rights, as well as a promise of a job upon his graduation in 1965. Spinello got the money but no job—not right away, anyway. He finally joined at the company in 1976.
2. Operation was originally named Death Valley.
Spinello had created an intriguing idea for a buzzer-based game, but initially, there was no clear premise. Cottone suggested the box and probe take on a desert theme, where players would extract water from holes in the ground. The working title was Death Valley. When Milton Bradley bought the game rights from Marvin Glass and Associates, one of their designers, Jim O’Connor, suggested they switch from a probe to a pair of tweezers in order to actually extract small items from the holes. The setting was changed from a desert to an operating theater, and Operation was released in 1965.
3. Cavity Sam got a new diagnosis in 2004.
For decades, the various ailments of Cavity Sam—a funny bone, a broken heart, etc.—remained unchanged. In 2004, Hasbro introduced the first addition to his laundry list of complaints with a diagnosis of Brain Freeze, represented by an ice cream cone waiting for extraction from his head. Fans of the game were able to vote online for Sam's first new ailment: Brain Freeze beat out Growling Stomach and Tennis Elbow with 54 percent of the vote. Later versions have added Burp Bubbles and flatulent sound effects for an ailment dubbed Toxic Gas. Hasbro has also offered licensed versions of the game, including boards based on the Toy Story and Shrek franchises.
4. The inventor of Operation didn’t make any money off Operation.
In 2014, word circulated that Spinello was in need of oral surgery that would cost around $25,000. Because he had sold the rights to Operation for just $500, he had not received any royalties from sales of the game. Fortunately, a round of crowdfunding allowed him to get the procedure he needed. Hasbro, which bought Milton Bradley, also donated to the effort by buying Spinello’s original prototype.
5. Operation inspired a real-life operation that has helped thousands of people.
Surgeon Andrew Goldstone was a fan of Operation as a child. When he got older, he took the game’s premise to heart. Goldstone noticed that thyroid surgeries were risky due to the thyroid’s proximity to the nerves of the vocal cords. A small slip could damage the cords, causing hoarseness or airway obstruction. Goldstone thought surgeons should have a buzzer similar to the one in the game that alerted them when they got too close. He applied an electrode to the airway tube used during general anesthesia. If a surgeon touched the nerves of the vocal cords with a probe, a signal would pass to the electrode and a buzzer would sound. Goldstone sold the technology back in 1991. It’s been used in thousands of thyroid surgeries since. Unfortunately, the patient’s nose does not light up.