Space Mountain

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Space Mountain
Spaceoutside2.jpg
The exterior of Space Mountain. Photo by CL Photographs
Magic Kingdom
Land Tomorrowland
Theme Space travel
Opening date December 15, 1974
Vehicle type Rocket train
Ride duration 2:30 minutes
Length 3186-3196 ft (2211.9 m)
Total height 183 ft (55.8 m)
Track height 65 ft (19.8 m)
Maximum speed 28 mph (45.1 km/h)
Height requirements 44" (112 cm)
FastPass + Yes
Sponsored by RCA (1975-1993)

Fed Ex (1994-2003)

Space Mountain is an attraction located in Tomorrowland.

Attraction History

The idea for Space Mountain came from Walt Disney himself. After the success of the Matterhorn attraction in Disneyland, Walt was convinced that "thrill-rides" had a place in his park. In 1964, with this in mind, Walt approached designer John Hench with an idea for a new Tomorrowland attraction. Walt called the idea the "Space Port", a roller coaster in the dark that would feature creative lighting and other special effects to give the illusion that guests were in space [1].

Concept art for the attraction was created by Hench, Clem Hall, George Mcginnis and Herb Ryman. Early on, the attraction's name was changed to "Space Venture", as ideas for it continued to be refined [2]. To help make the attraction a reality, WED partnered with the Arrow Development Company, who had helped to design the Matterhorn track. In June of 1966 WED employees voted, and decided to change the name once again, this time to Space Mountain. Plans for Space Mountain were put on hold indefinably however, in 1966, when Walt Disney died. After Walt’s passing, a new company wide focus was put on completing Walt Disney World. This, combined with the spatial and technological limitations of Disneyland, made the construction of Space Mountain unfeasible for the time being. Although the Space Mountain idea was dead in Disneyland, it soon found life in the newly constructed Walt Disney World. The popularity of the new park surpassed even Disney's expectations, and Disney World proved to be especially popular with teenagers and young adults. Almost as soon as the park opened, plans were made for a new thrill ride [2].

Disney’s first choice for a thrill ride was to construct and east coast version of the Matterhorn. It soon became apparent however that Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland was not big enough to house the iconic attraction. Instead, Disney decided to revisit the tabled Space Mountain idea, as Disney World’s Tomorrowland had more than enough space for expansion [3] With the new location in mind, Imagineers got back to work on the development of the coaster. One early decision that Disney made was to develop the track for Space Mountain “in house” as opposed to using the Arrow Development Company. WED Engineers further decided to make the coaster a "pure gravity" ride, meaning that Space Mountain would feature no boosters or retarders [2].

Space Mountain concept art by John Hench

One of the next decisions that Disney had to make involved sponsorship. Like many of the early Walt Disney World attractions, sponsorship money was an intricate part of Space Mountain’s creation. Accepting Disney’s offer of sponsorship, RCA agreed to give 10 million dollars towards the construction of the coaster [4]. Due to this agreement, Space Mountain’s original queue and post show were designed to feature RCA products [2]. Although the basic concept of the attraction was agreed upon, the final designs of the interior structure, queue and post show all changed various times before Space Mountain was finally built. The shape of Space Mountain was also a topic of debate amongst Disney Imagineers. Some wanted Space Mountain to look like a dome, while others wanted to use a "cone" shape. The cone shape idea eventually won out, and on January 15, 1975 Space Mountain officially opened.

Building Structure and Track Details

When Space Mountain was constructed, it was seen by many as a technological marvel. The attraction was the first indoor roller coaster, the first roller coaster to take place completely in the dark, and the first coaster to be operated by computers. Space Mountain also has the distinction of being the second highest building in Walt Disney World. At 183 feet tall, Space Mountain is just 6 feet shorter than Cinderella Castle. The supports for Space Mountain are also unique, in that they are located on the outside of the building instead of the inside. This was done so that the inside roof would be flat, and projections of space would be able to be shown on it.

To create the illusion of stars above the riders, 20 mirrored balls are hit with a spotlight. When the light which reflects off the balls hits the roof, it gives the illusion of stars. Other projections include the "shooting stars" which are created by a moving spotlight, and the asteroids and galaxies which are emitted from dimmed down projectors. In total the construction of Space Mountain required 4,000 pieces of steel, and 12,000 feet of electrical wire. Since every piece of steel had to be accessible by stairs, the inside of Space Mountain resembles a metallic maze.

Original Attraction Plot

Preshow

From 1973 until 1994 Space Mountain was sponsored by RCA. Guests entered Space Mountain through an entrance building located in Tomorrowland which featured three large RCA logos, as well as an original "four seat" ride vehicle, encased in a clear case. Inside the vehicle sat a family consisting of a father, mother and two children. Before guests entered the "entrance portal", they would pass a large quote on the wall which read:

"ONE GIANT STEP... Dedicated to the men and women whose skills, sacrifice, courage and teamwork opened the door to the exploration of man's exciting new frontier...outer space. Because they dared to reach for the stars and the planets, man's knowledge of his universe, earth and himself has been greatly enriched. Presented by missile, space and range pioneers. January 15, 1975."
[5]
The blue "launch" tunnel

Just after entering the building, guests boarded a descending, moving ramp. On the right side of the ramp, guests could see RCA's mascot, Nipper the Fox Terrier and a phonograph machine inside a flying saucer. At this point in the attraction, RCA's Space Mountain theme song- "Here's To the Future and You" would begin to play. Further down the ramp guests could look out convex windows and see the Star Corridors, a series of different space themed displays. One display for example, showed an astronaut riding his moon buggy in space. On the left hand side of the descending ramp, a series of RCA products were displayed. The reason that guests had to be lowered, was because the queue ran underneath the Walt Disney World Railroad to the lot where Space Mountain is actually located. After guests finished descending, they reached the "zig-zag corridor". Here windows allowed guests to see out into space. Things that could be seen out these windows included:

  • Astronauts fixing a satellite
  • Galaxies
  • Planets
  • Shooting Stars
  • And finally, a family riding the Space Mountain ride vehicle in space. [5]

After passing through the zig-zag corridor, guests finally reached the loading area. Here they watched a safety video featuring Astronaut Gordon Cooper, before boarding their ride vehicles on either the Alpha or Omega track (the two tracks were identical except for the fact that Alpha track was ten feet longer).

Ride

Space Mountain began with guests boarding their "rocket" and taking off past the Space Port queue and Mission Control booth. The jets then went up a lift hill and down a small slope, which lead to circular tunnel lined with blue lights. Here “energy” could be heard building up, and eventually propelling guests to the other end of the dome. The rockets then did a 180 degree turn and went up another lift hill, where a mirror positioned at the end of the track, gave riders the illusion that they were about to collide with another rocket. At this point, if the riders looked up they were able to see the Earth, stars, comets, meteors, and asteroids above them- adding to the illusion that they were flying through space.

As the rockets continued on, they would go down a quick dip and a series of twists and turns, in almost complete darkness. In the dark, guests then fell down a 38 degree drop (the steepest in the attraction) before passing through a red, swirling, wormhole and finally reaching the unloading area.

RCA's Home of Future Living

From 1973 until about 1985 Space's Mountains post show was known as the RCA Home of Future Living. After unloading from their ride vehicles, guests would board another moving ramp which took them up. On the right side of the ramp guests would begin to see scenes of how future homes would look. The first scene depicted a father wearing a blue jumpsuit and lounging in his chair. In front of him was a TV the size of a briefcase which showed a female business associate. The scene showed that the man was able to conduct his business meeting, while in the comfort of his own home. Continuing on, guests saw a model of the house which was shaped like a hexagon, with each room connected by stairways. [5]

The daughter in the Home of the RCA Home of Future Living. Seen here talking on her phone.

The next room that guests saw in the Home of Future Living was the nursery. Here, while a baby stood in her crib, a clown with a camera was broadcasting her to the rest of the house. This allowed her family to keep an eye on her even though they were not in the same room. Continuing on, guests passed the family room, where an unidentified female could be seen taking a pottery lesson over her TV. She was able to talk and communicate with her professor who was being displayed on the TV. The next scene guests saw showed a boy named Billy who was wearing an orange jumpsuit. He was standing outside of his house with a frog and a dog. Billy would talk into a camera mounted next the door saying "Don't you like frogs Mrs. Brown?” and his mother would then tell Billy that he would have to stay outside with his pets.

Going back inside the house, guests could see the recreation room, which was located above the family room. Here, a teenage boy could be seen taking a ski lesson from the SelctaVision. His younger brother, who was also in the room, was shown building a model rocket using instructions from the television. Next to the recreation room was the kitchen where the mother of the house and a neighbor (possibly Mrs. Brown) sat in front of a large TV, shopping. In the corner of her screen, Billy could be seen, still pleading to bring his pets inside. Moving on, guests would come across the teenage daughter's room. Here a teenager was watching a classic SelctaVision disc (usually featuring Elvis, Kurt Russell, or Blondie). While she was watching, she was on the phone with Judy, who she would tell to come over. The final room of the house was the entertainment room, which housed the biggest TV in the post show, which was being watched by a young girl and boy. [6]

After viewing the home of the future, guests would see various RCA products as the attraction's theme song again played. Before finally exiting the attraction however, they would also get one final encounter with Billy, who was now holding a video camera (pointing it at them). A monitor above would allow guests to see themselves on TV (this was considered one of the highlights of the attraction). Finally, guests would arrive back in Tomorrowland having completed their journey into space. [6]

Postshow Changes and Federal Express (1985-2004)

In 1985 RCA replaced the "Home of Future Living” with a new post show that allowed guests to see what it would be like to live on a space colony. One of the most notable changes was that Billy and his dog (who once recorded guests and put them on TV) were replaced with a robot boy and a robot dog. Furthermore, the TV monitors that used to advertise RCA products were changed to show astronauts in space. Although the story of the post-show changed, its main purpose was still to show and advertise RCA televisions [5].

Bigger changes came to Space Mountain in 1994, when Federal Express took over sponsorship of the attraction. During this time, Space Mountain (as well as almost all of Tomorrowland) was redesigned to fit into the New Tomorrowland theme. After the refurbishment, the attraction’s entrance was noticeably shorter, and storm shutters were added to its doorway. Furthermore, the left hand entrance wall (which had previously been used for signage) was demolished. Now when entering the attraction, guests simply saw the words “Space Mountain” written on the right hand wall in a new orange font (the new font was used throughout the attraction). Finally, the spiral outside of the entrance which had one read “RCA” was replaced by a new spiral that held signs for both Space Mountain and Fed Ex.

After entering the queue for the attraction, following the refurbishment, guests would notice more changes had taken place. Inside the entrance lobby, a large mural of the Milky Way was added, and the general color scheme of the area was changed to orange and brown (the colors of Fed Ex). In 1998, the original flooring in this room was removed, and a staircase was added to the right hand side.

Further on in the queue, the windows that guests could previously look out to see various scenes from space were removed and left empty for a number of years. The flying saucer which held the RCA dog and a phonograph machine was also taken out (for obvious reasons). Although Space Mountain went through a series of changes during its refurbishment in 1994, the attraction itself was not changed in any significant ways.

Finally, although Fed Ex did not change many of the post show's props (although "space packages" were added) it did change the story they told. Instead of focusing on a space colony and the technology that could be used there, the new post show focused on the future of package delivery, and gave guests the idea that one day packages could be sent over spatial distances. Following the 1994 refurbishment, Space Mountain’s exit building was removed, and the attraction now dumps guests into the Tomorrowland Power and Light Company[5].

In 2003 Federal Express chose not to renew their sponsorship, leaving Space Mountain sponsorless [7].

Current Attraction (2009-Present)

In 2009 Space Mountain underwent a major refurbishment. Changes were made to the preshow, ride and postshow.

Preshow

A mural showing the name Starport Seven-Five.

When Space Mountain reopened 2009 following a lengthy refurbishment, the queue and preshow had been changed in fairly drastic ways. As part of the “next generation” of Disney World queues, 43 video games were added to Space Mountain’s stand-by queue, in an attempt to make the ride wait more manageable. Furthermore, the original color scheme of the attraction was returned (replacing the brown and orange scheme that was added during Federal Express’ tenure). Another noticeable change to the queue was the fact that the windows which had once showed scenes from space, now allowed guests to look out directly into space itself. Finally, a large mural which reads, "Starport 75: Your Gateway to the Galaxy" was added (the 75 being and obvious reference to the year that Space Mountain opened). In general, the entire queue hints at the fact that Space Mountain is now actually a starport [8].

After making their way through the queue, guests are divided up into lines for either the Alpha or Omega track. Currently the Alpha track is used primarily for standby guests, while the Omega Track is used for FastPass + guests (although if the line is short, it is possible to for standby guests to ride the Omega track). After dividing up, guests enter the loading area, where they can look out into space before getting into their ride vehicles.

Ride

Although the ride is similar to its original incarnation, there have been some changes. The ride still begins with the rockets leaving the loading area, instantly making a 180 degree turn. After taking the turn, the rockets come to a stop in a purple tunnel, which is located just in front of the a lift hill. After climbing up the hill, the vehicles fall down a slope into the blue strobe tunnel where the rockets build up “energy”. The tunnel itself is similar to the original attraction, however the lights now flash with increasing speed, as the energy builds up. Also of note, an on-ride photo camera has been added to the tunnel, allowing guests to purchase their on ride photo after they exit the attraction.

Continuing on, the vehicles head towards a blue orb at the end of the tunnel and for a moment, the blue lights shut off, allowing guests to see the stars all around them. After exiting the tunnel, the rockets go up another large lift hill from which they are able to see other rockets, as well as riders on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. After reaching the top of the hill, riders go down a steep drop followed by a series of twists and turns during which they are able to see various space objects projected above the track. The vehicles then go down the attraction's biggest drop (still at 38 degrees) and enter the red wormhole, before hitting the final brake run and reaching the unloading area.

Postshow

The new postshow begins on guest's left hand side where a robot is shown manning a station known as the “MK-1 Command Center” (he is apparently in charge of what guests will see in the rest of the postshow). Moving onto the escalator belt, guests come across three scenes from space. The first two (which are known as the Mercury Peak and the Crater Caverns scenes) are similar, albeit redesigned versions, of the previous postshow, with any references to Fed Ex having been removed. The third scene in the new postshow is known as "20,000 Lightyears Under the Sea” (a reference to the now defunct Magic Kingdom attraction: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). This scene closely resembles the underwater scene in the former Epcot attraction Horizons.

After passing by the three worlds, guests come upon a futuristic kitchen. The kitchen features a circular round booth and a robot who is serving drinks. Continuing on, guests see the outside of a futuristic town, with only blue light emitting from it. Both of these scenes seem to show "The future that never was", which is the general concept of Tomorrowland.

Fun Facts and Trivia

Space Mountain's Grand Opening
  • Early in Space Mountain's development, George McGinnis proposed a loop that would be seen from the attraction's interior queue and highlighted by a strobe light every two seconds. Disney eventually rejected the idea as "too violent for a family attraction" [9]
  • The robot in the current postshow resembles the robot that formally resided in Horizons [10].
  • Due to the lubricant used on the ride vehicles, Space Mountain is actually faster at night then it is in the morning (the lubricant solidifies when cooled and is more jelled in the morning) [11].
  • Space Mountain cost 24 million dollars to initially construct, and 12 million dollars to update.
  • Space Mountain is the oldest operating roller coaster in the state of Florida [12].
  • Astronauts Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper and Jim Irwin took the first ride on Space Mountain [12].
  • The list of "Active Earth Stations" in Space Mountain's queue contains references to the Space Mountain attractions found in Disney Parks around the world [13]
  • Attractions referenced in the "Closed Sectors" list include: Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Skyway to Fantasyland, the Swan Boats, the Mickey Mouse Revue, Mission to Mars, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea [13].
  • At Space Mountain's Grand Opening, following RCA Chairman Robert Sarnoff's introduction of the attraction, 50,000 balloons were released into the air [9].

References

  1. http://allears.net/ae/issue695.htm
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 http://www.mouseplanet.com/7135/WDWs_Space_Mountain
  3. http://disneylandreport.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-history-of-space-mountain.html.
  4. http://www.mouseplanet.com/10533/Remembering_the_Magic_Space_Mountain
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 http://www.omniluxe.net/wyw/sm.htm
  6. 6.0 6.1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=femFW0HfahM
  7. http://www.wdwmagic.com/attractions/space-mountain/news/23jan2003-space-mountain-lose-fedex-sponsorship.htm
  8. http://land.allears.net/blogs/jackspence/2009/11/space_mountain_reopens_1.html
  9. 9.0 9.1 Koenig, David. Realityland: True-life Adventures at Walt Disney World. Irvine, CA: Bonaventure, 2007. Print.
  10. http://www.lostepcot.com/horizons.html
  11. http://www.hiddenmickeys.org/Disneyland/Secrets/Tomorrow/SpaceMountain.html
  12. 12.0 12.1 http://touch.orlandosentinel.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-82542866/
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Yee, Keven. Walt Disney World Hidden History Second Edition. N.p.: n.p., 2014. Print.