Astro Orbiter is an attraction located in Tomorrowland.
The attraction that would one day be known as the Astro Orbiter, actually traces its history back to Disneyland. In 1956, Disney debuted its first ever "rocket-spinner" attraction, the Astro Jets. Created by Klaus Company Bavaria, the attraction allowed guests to "fly" 36 feet above ground level in small "jets" . The Disneyland version of the attraction was briefly renamed "Tomorrowland Jets", before it was moved to a new location atop the PeopleMover and renamed the "Rocket Jets" in 1967.
Although not an opening day attraction, the Rocket Jets were always a part of the plans for the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland. In fact, a copy of the Rocket Jets (called the Star Jets) was a central part of the Magic Kingdom's 1974 Tomorrowland expansion (an expansion that also included the addition of Space Mountain, the Carousel of Progress and the WEDWay PeopleMover). Located atop the WEDWay PeopleMover platform (like its Disneyland counterpart) the Star Jets was one of the most prominent features in Tomorrowland. Although the Star Jets was considered a copy of the Disneyland attraction (as both attractions involved guests flying around large Saturn V rocket), the ride vehicles that guests rode in were different. The Star Jets (unlike their Disneyland counterparts) were designed to look like space shuttles as opposed to rockets .
On January 10 1994 the Star Jets was closed. In conjunction with the "New Tomorrowland", the attraction was given a complete makeover. The color scheme of the attraction was changed, with the ride now being primarily grey and metallic looking. At this time, a stylized iron tower and various "planets" also replaced the Saturn V Rocket as the ride’s focal point. The new structure allowed guests to feel as if they were flying through the planets, instead of just around a stationary object. The new ride also featured 3 more rockets which helped to increase guest capacity. When the attraction reopened on April 30, 1994 it was renamed the Astro Orbiter.
In 2014 the Astro Orbiter closed for an extensive refurbishment. During this time, the attraction was stripped and given a new ride system. Furthermore, during the refurbishment the exterior of the ride structure was given a new paint scheme (including the attraction's elevator shaft being painted orange) and the rockets themselves were given a new look. During the refurbishment it was speculated that the rotating planets (which had been stationary for a number of years) would be repaired. When the attraction reopened however, the planets remained stationary .
The Astro Orbiter allows guests to board rocket ships and fly high above Tomorrowland. Differentiating it from other "hub and spoke" attractions in Walt Disney World (such as Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the Magic Carpets of Aladdin), is the fact that the rockets actually sit atop Rockettower Plaza, 80 feet in the air. In order to board their rockets, guests must ascend up a small elevator which brings them to the loading area.
Once guests board their rocket they have the ability to choose how high or low they will fly. A joystick in the middle of the rocket will move guests up or down as they fly through the air. The rockets make approximately eleven rotations per minute, and the ride lasts for 90 seconds. The jets themselves are attached to the axis by a twenty foot arm, which helps add to the illusion that guests are "flying" through space. While in the air, riders feel like they are flying through the planets, while also getting a great view of Tomorrowland. After 90 seconds the rockets are lowered back to the loading area.
Fun Facts and Trivia
- The replica of the Saturn V rocket that was once the focal point of the Astro Orbiter was painted camouflage green and used in the television series "Thunder in Paradise" (the series was produced at the Disney-MGM Studios). After the series ended, the rocket was placed in the Boneyard scene of the Studio Backlot Tour.
- The attraction vehicles themselves may have been based on the popular Buck Rogers series. .
- Formally, On the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, the Astro Orbiter was referred to as the "League of Planets Astro Orbiter". This tied the attraction in with the backstory of Tomorrowland which stated that the land was the headquarters for the fictional League of Planets, which helped make Tomorrowland an intergalactic meeting place.
- A two day Cast Member preview of the Star Jets took place from November 26-27, 1974 .
- When Walt Disney World still used ticket books the Star Jets required a "D" ticket to ride.