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!