Remembering the Magic: Horizons and Mission: SPACE

by Jonathan Heigl, contributing writer

I just wanted to start off by mentioning that this is the 12th article of the series, meaning we have gone through one full year already! I just wanted to thank everyone for continuing to read the series and hope you are finding it fun, informative, and interesting. I enjoy writing these and hope everyone enjoys reading them!

This month we will be exploring the history of Mission: SPACE. This pavilion has a very bittersweet history to a lot of longtime Disney World fans and Guests due to the attraction that was formerly in its place. Let’s begin by exploring this pavilion from its beginning to its current life.

Horizons logo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Horizons (October 1, 1983 – January 9, 1999)

Horizons was a much beloved, 15-minute dark ride in Future World East in Epcot Center. Opening in 1983, this pavilion was located in between the Wonders of Life Pavilion and the World of Motion Pavilion and originally sponsored by GE, until 1993.

The pavilion was 136,835 square feet in size, with the ride track being 1,346 feet long. The attraction utilized the Omnimover system, which is used in many current attractions such as Spaceship Earth, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and others. The ride moved at 1.5 feet per second (which is just over 1 mile per hour). There were 24 sets featuring 54 Audio Animatronics and 770 props. There was a queue capacity of 696 guests, 174 maximum vehicles with four seats per vehicle, with a ride capacity of 2,784 guests per hour.

Horizons was about a family living in the future. Horizons really rolled all of the elements of Future World into one ride—imagination, energy, communication, transportation, land, sea, and life. As guests entered the pavilion, they would be greeted by the ride’s most famous quote, painted on the wall above: “If we can dream it, we can do it.” Going to the right, guests entered the queue. The lighting was on the darker side, with pink neon lighting through the queue to add to the futuristic feel. At the beginning of the queue were two screens that acted as flight status screens. The screen on the left, labeled "Futureport," listed all of the different flight numbers, destinations, services, dates, and the flight status. The screen on the right, "Departures," showed the flight number, destination, service, gate, and status.

The pavilion’s theme song could be heard throughout the queue. As guests wound their way through the queue, there were various “windows” where they could look out of and see giant murals of the destinations. Guests would reach the end of the queue, where they would step onto the moving walkway and board their ride vehicles. The vehicles were facing the moving walkway (like the Clammobiles in The Seas with Nemo and Friends), not straight ahead (like the Doombuggies in the Haunted Mansion). The vehicles were suspended from the overhead track, rather than on a track in the floor.

The mom and dad of the family in the future were the narrators. The first scene were clouds that would light up different colors, such as blue, then pink, against a dark background.

The next scene was “Looking Back at Tomorrow.” Projections of what people of the past thought about the future are shown, such as blasting a rocket out of a cannon into space. Then, guests are shown an Audio Animatronic of Jules Verne and his dog (and a chicken) floating in a bullet-shaped rocket, lined with red velvet on the inside. This was his vision of a futuristic rocket. The next small scene is the projection of the moon with a face, with a rocket is stuck in the eye.

The next scene, “Future from the 1950s,” depicts Paris of the future, and looks like it is sketched out in pencil. Around the corner, we enter a house with a man looking out of a window and his robotic butler vacuuming the floor. “A Great Big, Beautiful Tomorrow” from the Carousel of Progress is heard playing in the background, leading to popular belief that Horizons is actually meant to be a sequel to the Carousel of Progress. In the same scene is a man at a futuristic barber shop getting a haircut from a robotic barber chair, and behind him is a futuristic kitchen with a robotic chef.

Next, we see a whole lot of neon lights and signs for movie theaters and old black and white movies showing on the screens. There are houses outlined in the neon lights, as well as futuristic cars, blimps, streets, and so on.

At this point, the ride vehicles are beginning to go up a slope, and the riders enter the Omnimax Entry Tunnel, a dark room with moving light on the wall. After this is the Omnimax Film Sequence, which showed film of the sun, crystals, spaceship blasting off, flying over a city, DNA chain, and so on, after which riders went through the Omnimax Exit Tunnel, which was like the Entry Tunnel.

The next scene is called “Urban Habitat (Nova Cite Living Room)”. This is the living room of the family of the future that has been narrating the journey so far. In the scene around the corner, vegetables are being grown using hydroponic technology, not in the ground.

After this scene is Mesa Verde, a desert city. There are orange groves in the middle of the desert, with robotic vehicles tending to them. Riders can smell oranges as they pass through this scene. There is a control room where a lady is supervising the machines that are tending to the groves. A hovercraft is parked next to the control room.

Around the corner from this scene is a waterfall in the desert. Next to this is a futuristic kitchen where a dad and son are preparing food. In the next room, the father’s daughter is talking to her boyfriend through the large TV. He is in the next scene preparing a submarine for its voyage.

In “Sea Castle,” the next section, we see a teacher and three kids, and a sea lion in a diving class. The ride vehicles are now underwater as we get to the next scene. The riders are looking through underwater bubble-windows at a restaurant. In the next window is a little girl and her mother looking out of the window at a sea lion who swam up to it and is looking back at her. The third window shows a man sitting at his desk. Finally, we are at the bottom of the ocean and there is an octopus sitting on a rock. Riders pass by a large video screen showing an underwater city with divers going by.

Next, we transition directly to outer space with “Brava Centauri.” We see stars shine in the dark outerspace, as well as large space stations and planets. Going inside the space station, we see many houses in the distance. We go into a zero-gravity exercise room and see an upside-down exercise bike. Riders also pass by a zero-gravity space-wheel room, where they are trying to acclimate to zero gravity. They are all floating, as are the dog and a shoe. The next room is a crystal harvesting room where robotic arms are tending to the crystals. The room after this is the futuristic family singing "Happy Birthday" to their grandson via TV screens on the wall.

Riders are now in the “Choose your own flight path” stage, where the track begins to slope downwards and the riders are asked to vote on which flight path they want to take back to FuturePort: Space, Desert, or Under Sea. Everyone can choose, but majority rules. For whichever path the majority chooses, your vehicle is then placed in front of a screen and shown a 30-second video returning to FuturePort. For:

  • Space – you are in first person view in a mini shuttle launching out of the port back towards Earth. You follow another shuttle past satellites and other things in orbit and eventually dock in another launch port.
  • Desert – riders are in a desert hovercraft. The sun is in the sky above and you fly over cacti in the desert. You fly past the houses and orange groves in the desert of the future, and eventually land on a hovercraft pad next to a round building.
  • Under Sea – riders are in a personal submarine. They start out above the sea and then go below, following another submarine past wreckage and parts of the underwater city, docking at the underwater city.

The last scene is a dark scene with all flashing stars. The father says “if we can dream it, we really can do it, and that’s the most exciting part.” At this point, the riders are approaching the moving walkway and exit the vehicle.

In 1993, GE dropped its sponsorship of the pavilion. Horizons closed in December 1994 and reopened December 1995 because of the closure of Universe of Energy and World of Motion. Horizons closed permanently on January 9, 1999, and demolition of the pavilion began in 2000 to make way for….

Mission: SPACE (October 9, 2003 – Present)

After the former Horizons pavilion was demolished, a new building was built. This new pavilion would house the Mission: SPACE thrill ride, as well as the Mission: SPACE Advanced Training Labs. The new pavilion opened in soft-open status in June 2003, and officially later the same year, on October 9. The pavilion was, and currently is, sponsored by HP. The pavilion cost about $100 million to build. The attraction lasts about 5 and a half minutes and has a capacity of about 1,600 Guests per hour.

Mission: SPACE is a motion simulator thrill ride. The idea of the ride is to simulate training for the first manned mission to Mars. The riders are the trainees and are briefed by actor Gary Sinise. Riders are placed into groups of four and assigned a role for the mission (commander, engineer, navigator, pilot). Each role has two tasks to perform during the simulation, such as pushing a button at a specific time.

The mission includes liftoff, a trip around the moon, a hypersleep period, and descent onto Martian surface. There are many unexpected situations that arise during training that the riders must endure.

Mission: SPACE is a multiple-arm centrifuge that spins and tilts the enclosed ride vehicles to simulate acceleration and up to 2.5 G-force. There are 10 ride vehicles per centrifuge, and four centrifuges.

Because the simulation is so realistic, there are fans that blow air onto the riders to help ease motion sickness, and there are even bags within reach in case riders do get sick. On May 19, 2006, a less intense version of the ride was introduced in response to two deaths and several people being taken to the hospital after riding (the deaths were from pre-existing conditions and not directly related to the ride or malfunctions). The less intense version (known as the Green Team, with the original version known as the Orange Team), is the same as the original version, except the centrifuge does not spin (does not simulate G-force).

The Advanced Training Labs can be found at the exit of the ride, or at the back of the gift shop (depending on how you enter the Advanced Training Labs). In this area, is a group interactive game, a play area for little kids, an arcade style single player game, and a video postcard kiosk. Mission: SPACE Race is a group interactive game where two teams compete in a race of their ships. Within the two teams are two groups; one group has serve up colored balls to the other group on their team, while that second group picks up their colored balls and places them on the ship to fix it. Once the ship is fixed, someone needs to hit the hyperspace button to give the ship a boost in speed.

This game requires communication and teamwork from all participants. Up to 56 people can participate in this game! Expedition Mars is the arcade style game where the player explores Mars in search for 4 fellow astronauts. Space Base is a play area for little kids and features the base of tubes that they can crawl through. Postcards from Space is the video postcard kiosk that allows Guests to make a quick video postcard and email to friends and family.

My verdit – revert, update, leave alone, or re-imagine?

Currently, I’d have to go with “leave alone” for this pavilion. I think it is still relevant to today’s world, the technology is still modern, and the thrill is still present. While I would love to see Horizons back, and still prefer Horizons to Mission: SPACE, I do think Epcot needs the thrill of Mission: SPACE, as it and Test Track are really the only true thrill rides in Epcot.

There is no doubt that there are lots of Horizons fans, and I am one of them. It was truly a great ride for it’s time, but it would be very outdated if it were still around today, and wanting Epcot to be more up to date, not to mention Future World more futuristic, is something guests are expressing more and more every day.

What do you think? Share your thoughts and your verdict in the comments! Thanks for reading!



  1. By MyTwoCents

    Thank you for another fascinating and well-researched article!
    It is always a little sad when attractions change or disappear; however, nostalgia is a temptress who makes us forget reality, in my humble opinion. I say that because I enjoyed Horizons but felt none of the passion some others share when discussion turns to this long-lost attraction. (Nor do I miss World of Motion and its annoying theme song.) it was outdated when it closed and what the Imagineers built in its place is, for me, truly incredible.

  2. By DisneyGator

    Fun article. I never got a chance to do Horizons as my first trip to WDW was in 2002. I can say there was a lot of anticipation when I was there that summer, seeing the large plantes and facade being built. I couldn't wait to hit it in 2004 and M:S definitely lived up to it's billing. Thanks for the re-cap. I'll have to hit youtube and see if there's any good videos of Horizons.

    BTW, anyone else think that the Horizons logo just looks like an upsidedown Pac Man?

  3. By Boundyman

    While I do think that Epcot needs its Mission Space, I think it should be where the Imagination pavilion is so that it will be on the same side as The Land and The Living Seas with Nemo. In its place, I think it should be a pavilion about communication. As for Horizons, I loved that ride but it needs to be more up to date, such as having the ending feel a little more realistic as though we were flying in those vehicles. I would place it opposite of where Spaceship Earth is to Innovations, so that Spaceship Earth would be about the Past, Innovations the Present, and Horizons the Future.

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