So far, I’ve focused all of the Neatorama Disney Parks articles on Disneyland, mostly because it was the first of all the parks and most of the classic rides originated at the Anaheim park. But, when I decided to write about Space Mountain, I soon learned that it was one of only two classic Disney Parks attractions to debut at Disney World (the other was the Country Bear Jamboree), so to do it justice, it was only right to focus on the Disney World version of the ride.
Image via KWDW [Wikipedia]
Necessity Leads to Innovation
The idea for Space Mountain originated from the success of the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland. The popularity of the ride showed Disney that thrilling rides would do well in his park and he started to work with Arrow Development Company (the same firm that designed the Matterhorn) on a concept for a new Tomorrowland attraction called the Space Port. The concept was similar to the Bobsleds, but it would be inside with special lighting and other effects. Originally, the group wanted to use four separate tracks, but when that proved to be too space consuming, the plans were cut down to two tracks. In 1966, the ride was renamed “Space Mountain.” Unfortunately, Walt’s death that year and the new focus on opening the new Disney World park put the plans for Space Mountain on hold indefinitely.
After a few years, it was obvious that The Magic Kingdom was a major success, but also that their customer base was older than originally expected, comprising of a lot of teens and young adults. To keep up their popularity with this age group, the corporation decided they needed to install more thrill rides. There wasn’t enough space in Fantasyland to add another Matterhorn and the weather of Florida made outdoor rollercoasters somewhat impractical. That’s when designers returned to the idea of Space Mountain. There was enough space in Tomorrowland and the technology improvements in the last few years made many of the outlandish concepts for the ride practical.
Because the ride would be kind of expensive to create, Disney approached RCA to sponsor the new attraction –many rides at the park were sponsored at the time. RCA provided communications hardware and money and, in exchange, their name was plastered all over the ride and the moving sidewalk that took guests out of the attraction was accompanied by a “house of the future” exhibit that prominently featured RCA products. RCA’s sponsorship stopped in 1993 and FedEx took over between 1995 and 2005, but the ride no longer has any sponsors.
When the ride was added to the Anaheim park, it had to fit in a smaller dome, so it was reduced to only hold one track. The other Disney parks also have only one track in their Space Mountains.
Image via William M [Wikipedia]
Specs In Space
Space Mountain opened in January 1975 and was the world’s first completely dark indoor rollercoaster. It is now the oldest operating coaster in Florida. It is enclosed in a dome that is 300 feet wide, 183 feet above ground (it also sits 15 feet below the ground, making it a total of 198 feet tall). All together, the dome has a total area of more than 4.5 million feet. The wall is made from 72 massive concrete beams that are each 117 feet long. Because it’s so big, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover passes through it. Fortunately, the PeopleMover features a glass viewing area so guests can look at the ride and see many of the effects used in it.
The Magic Kingdom version of the ride is the only one to offer two tracks and they are almost identical except the Omega track –the one on the right- is ten feet longer so it can cross the tracks to return to its platform.
When the ride is warming up in the morning or after a temporary shutdown, the grease on the track is cold, so the coaster goes slower, up to 25 mph, and the ride lasts longer. Once it’s warmed up, the ride goes up to 32 mph.
Image via WillMcC [Wikipedia]
Travelling Through Space
The ride starts out at the Space Port where guests are loaded into rockets that look similar to the Bobsled carts only there is only one person per seat. Each of the 30 rockets carries six people in a single file line. Guests then travel down a small slope where they enter a circular tunnel featuring shooting lights and repeating sound to signify the building of energy. At the end, it suddenly makes a 180 degree turn and, thanks to the use of mirrors, looks like it will crash into the rocket on the other track. That’s when the real fun starts and guests start seeing the projection of Earth, asteroids, comets and other astral bodies on the ceiling. The ride then goes through a number of twists and turns before it enters a swirling wormhole that brings it to the braking area and pulls back into the station.
Image via WillMcC [Wikipedia]
All of the park’s Space Mountains are different and while many people prefer the original for its place in history, polls of Disney fans that have gone to all the parks have shown that the one in Paris is considered the best. Have you been on more than one Space Mountain? If so, which is your favorite?
Sources: Disney World, Ultimate Orlando, All Ears, Wikipedia
Disneyland fans! See more Neatorama Facts:
Neatorama Facts: Haunted Mansion
Neatorama Facts: Sleeping Beauty Castle
Neatorama Facts: Pirates of the Caribbean
Neatorama Facts: The Jungle Cruise
Neatorama Facts: The Enchanted Tiki Room