Remembering the Magic: Space Mountainby Jonathan Heigl, contributing writer
This month's article is on Space Mountain. We’ll take a ride through the attraction's history at Walt Disney World and then I will give my verdict on whether to revert it, update it, leave it alone, or re-imagine it. Space Mountain does not have a long history of changes, and it has been the only ride in one of the most recognizable buildings in the entire "World", but let's take a blast to the past and explore Space Mountain';s history!
Space Mountain (January 15, 1975 – April 18, 2009)
Space Mountain opened in Tomorrowland on January 15, 1975, built inside of an unmistakable dome that is 300 feet in diameter. To help with the costs of building the attraction, RCA was convinced to sponsor it, and in doing so, contributed $10 million. Space Mountain was built outside of the Magic Kingdom's perimeter and was originally accessible by a tunnel. Called the "star corridor," this tunnel was under the original track of the Walt Disney World Railroad.
This indoor, dark coaster has two tracks, called Alpha, on the left, and Omega, on the right. These tracks cross each other, and in order to accomplish this, the Alpha track had to be 10 feet longer. However, an identical ride experience is had on either track. Riders of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover travel through the Space Mountain dome on their journey around Tomorrowland. Because the interior of the Space Mountain is dark, however, PeopleMover riders cannot see the attraction itself. Instead, they hear the screams, as well as stars and other moving lights projected onto the walls.
Riders made their way through the queue to the Space Port, where they boarded their single-width, six-person spaceships. After boarding, riders made a brief stop until they were cleared to proceed. Once cleared, the spaceships went down a small slope then up a lift into the "energy tunnel" consisting of a circular tunnel with flashing blue lights all around and sounds meant to signify the building up of energy. The spaceships then make a 180-degree turn and begin to climb the lift hill. Projections of planets, stars, meteors, and other flying space objects are shown, as the lift hill area has an open ceiling. Once at the top of the lift hill, riders were taken down a small, quick dip before being sent down through the numerous twists and turns the track had in store. The steepest drop is 39 degrees and the maximum speed is only 28 miles per hour (seems a lot faster, mostly due to being in the dark). The end of the track sends the spaceships through a swirling red wormhole, at which point the riders are safely returned to the unload station.
RCA sponsored the ride from 1975 to 1993. From 1994 to 2004, FedEx was the sponsor. Currently, the ride does not have a sponsor.
Space Mountain (November 22, 2009 – Present)
Space Mountain underwent a major refurbishment, closing on April 19, 2009 and not opening until November 22 later that year. During its seven-month closure, the ride tracks were replaced, although they kept the same exact design. There were a lot of other changes to the entire area as well. For instance, the exterior of the ride had new concrete flooring at the entrance, new signs for Space Mountain (lime green in color), a digital Fastpass sign, and a general deep clean of the surfaces of the building. The ride queue also saw some enhancements. The signs in the queue were updated and replaced, new flooring, railings, and lighting in the tunnel, 20 video screens with separate game controls were installed, allowing guests to play games while waiting, and perhaps most important, the queue was reworked to better separate Fastpass and standby riders and then also at a merge point, helping the flow of the queue.
The load area is now completely enclosed so you can no longer see the track. There is plenty of blue lighting around the area now as well. There are various space images projected to give you the feel that you are in space. The queue line was reconfigured, the floor received a new coating, and new railings were installed. New consoles were installed for the ride operators, along with the air gates commonly found at most rides now. The ride vehicles received a new coat of paint and new seat coverings, but they are the same trains, or spaceships. The unload area received the same updated theming of the load area, but has the addition of screens to view your ride photo. The post-show exit also received an update, with updated posters, a nod to Horizon with the robotic butler, and a special camera effect at the end of the tunnel.
Other than the updating of the track beams, theming and queue, addition of lights, screens and games, and general safety additions, the ride experience, in terms of track, is the same as it has always been.
Jonathan's verdict – revert, update, leave alone, or re-imagine?
My verdict for Space Mountain is...leave it alone! I think this is a great thrill ride. I love the update done in 2009. After all, Space Mountain is in Tomorrowland, and when I think of anything "space," I tend to think more futuristic, so things like the the updated theming addition of the blue lighting, updated signs, and games in the queue, are all perfect, in my opinion. I also appreciate how Disney kept the track layout the same, but replaced the entire track to keep it operating smoothly. This is a park icon and it never should be completely changed or removed. I feel Disney did an excellent job bringing this ride into the 21st century.
What are your thoughts? By my count, we have one attraction left in Tomorrowland, after which, we will move on to another park. Thanks for reading!