Remembering the Magic: Astro Orbiter

by Jonathan Heigl, contributing writer
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This month's article is on Tomorrowland's Astro Orbiter. Let's take a ride through the attraction's history at Walt Disney World. There is not a long history as you might imagine based on the type of ride, but sit back and enjoy the trip as we remember the magic of Astro Orbiter!

Star Jets (1974–1994)

The first version of this attraction was named Star Jets. Star Jets opened on November 28, 1974, a little more than three years after the Magic Kingdom park opened, as a D-ticket attraction on the old-style ride-ticket system. Star Jets were part of an expansion of Tomorrowland, which also later brought Space Mountain, Carousel of Progress, and the WEDWay PeopleMover.

One of the exciting and different aspects of this attraction was the fact that it was not just plopped on the ground somewhere—it was actually built on top of the central hub of Tomorrowland, which also served as the platform for the WEDWay PeopleMover.

There were 12 open-air Star Jet vehicles with each holding two riders. The ride vehicles were white in color, with a red stripe running horizontally around the vehicle, attached to a 20-foot arm. And when the ride was started, the riders could control the height using a lever. The Star Jets would circle around a large Saturn V rocket that acted as the hub. The ride allowed riders to soar 80 feet high above the ground.

In order to access the ride, the riders had to take an elevator to the Star Jets platform. The ride lasted for about 90 seconds. The attraction closed on January 10, 1994, as part of the refurbishment of Tomorrowland to the New Tomorrowland.

Astro Orbiter (1994 – Present)

The attraction reopened on April 30, 1994. The ride was redesigned from the Star Jets circling a Saturn V rocket, to rockets circling a tower, with planets also circling around the tower—making it appear as if the riders were circling the galaxy. The attraction was renamed "Astro Orbiter" and was designed to look more futuristic to match the design of the New Tomorrowland. The rockets received a new paint job and a new design. No longer did they have two large wings on the back, but instead, a few smaller wings around the rocket on the back.

Astro Orbiter does 11 rotations per minute and averages 1.2 million miles per year.

Jonathan's verdict – revert, update, leave alone, or re-imagine?

My verdict for Astro Orbiter is... re-imagine! I understand that not every ride can be an E-ticket thriller and I know that it would be difficult to put another type of attraction on top of the platform for the PeopleMover, but I think Imagineering can do better. To throw out some “blue sky” ideas, they may be able to do some sort of motion simulator, somewhat similar to Mission: SPACE or even Star Tours, but theme it to something that would fit Tomorrowland (and please, not after a Disney movie!).

I think doing a simulator would fit the theme really well because it would still be located above the PeopleMover, which is referred to as the transit system of Tomorrowland, so this could be the “air transit system”, with the screens simulating traveling to other planets or something similar.

Let's hear your opinions about the Astro Orbiter in the comments. Thanks for reading!

[Don't forget to check out the rest of Jonathan's attraction reviews and verdicts!]

Comments

  1. By Dave1313

    One of the exciting and different aspects of this attraction was the fact that it was not just plopped on the ground somewhere—it was actually built on top of the central hub of Tomorrowland, which also served as the platform for the WEDWay PeopleMover.

    This part is key for this attraction to me. If comparing DL to WDW, I give WDW the prize for maintaining this attraction in what I consider it's "proper" location!

    It's just not the same with it plopped down at the edge of TL near the entrance from the hub in DL. I'm not sure if it was the short lived Rocket Rods that caused the move, but IMO, the Astro Orbitor in DL should be reclaiming it's space on top of what used to be the People Mover loading zone in DL.

    So as to re-imagining it with a motion simulator, I'm not really for that at first glance. Any conventional motion simulator would effectively just plop a building on top of this space. To me that's a waste of the uniqueness of the platform. Maybe if they did something where the screen was a dome of some sort so it would not look like a big box from the ground.

    If they wanted to do something really complicated like make it still be rockets, but two levels of them, with the two levels going in opposite directions, I'd go for that! Technically nearly impossible, I'm sure (engineering a safety system for that would likely be the hardest part), but can you imagine the hype that would generate! Ride would of course have to become much taller. I can see the twin lines now with the "top section" line running out of TL when it first opened!

  2. By jheigl

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave1313 View Post

    So as to re-imagining it with a motion simulator, I'm not really for that at first glance. Any conventional motion simulator would effectively just plop a building on top of this space. To me that's a waste of the uniqueness of the platform. Maybe if they did something where the screen was a dome of some sort so it would not look like a big box from the ground.

    I agree 100%. A big square building on top of a platform would look terrible. A dome shaped thing is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote this. We know that a dome shaped simulator is possible because that would be similar to what is used at Universal Studios for the Simpsons (formerly Back to the Future) ride. With something like this, they could set it up similarly (yet smaller scale) to the Simpsons ride by having multiple vehicles (star jets, rockets, whatever) be on different levels so that they can maximize the ride capacity. Again, I am not an engineer so I do not know the logistics, or even how much room is really there, so this may not even be close to being possible, just throwing out some "blue sky" ideas! Thanks for the comment! Hope you enjoyed this article and all the articles in the series so far!

  3. By olegc

    from a practicality standpoint a motion simulator attraction would not work on the old platform. If you look at a satellite image of Tomorrowland - you will see that the show building for star tours is quite large. You could not have just one cabin on the attraction because the throughput on the attraction would be dismal (even with 2 cabins). and you need enough space to allow for the six degrees of freedom. Remember - it's not just 4 walls and the seats.

    I think reimagining is spot on. just need to find the right thing.

  4. By bumblebeeonarose

    My daughter loves this ride. Although the ride would be cool back up above the area, I wouldn't want to see it changed into something else.

  5. By davidgra

    Any type of ride that wasn't visible to passers-by and that didn't take advantage of the view from the top of the platform would be asinine. Why put an enclosed ride up high in the middle of a visual hub?

    The Astro Orbiter is really the ideal ride for the space. It provides a "kinetic sculpture" for the hub, making it visually interesting to everyone walking by. It provides a little-kid-friendly ride in a land where the "rides" aren't necessarily all geared toward little kids.

    It's possible that a swing-type ride (like the Orange Stinger, um, I mean Silly Symphony Swings) would work there, but the visual appeal of rocket ships circling overhead is honestly the perfect ride for that particular location.

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