Space Mountain is a themed indoor roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom, opened on January 15, 1975. It is the original version of the iconic attraction that is included in all five Disneyland-style theme parks worldwide. It is also currently the oldest operating roller coaster in the state of Florida.
|Space Mountain, as viewed from the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. The old Skyway terminal (now demolished) is on the far right.|
|Manufacturer||Arrow Development Company|
|Attraction type||Steel Roller coaster|
|Soft opening date||December 15, 1974 and November 13, 2009|
|Opening date||January 15, 1975 and November 22, 2009|
|Vehicle type||Rocket sled|
|Cars per vehicle||2|
|Guests per car||3|
|Ride duration||2.5 minutes|
|Length||3186-3196 ft (2211.9 m)|
|Total height||183 ft (55.8 m)|
|Track height||65 ft (19.8 m)|
|Maximum speed||30 mph (48.3 km/h)|
|Height requirements||44" (112 cm)|
|Number of lifts||1-1|
|Sponsored by||RCA (1975-1993)
The Space Mountain concept was a descendant of the first Disney "mountain" attraction, the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, which opened in 1959. The Matterhorn's success had convinced Walt Disney that thrilling rides did have a place in his park.
In 1964, Walt first approached designer John Hench with his idea for a new attraction that would be the focal point of a renovated Tomorrowland planned for 1967. His "Space Port" would include a roller-coaster-style ride in the dark, with lighting and other special effects. Originally called "Space Voyage" with concept artwork by John Hench, Clem Hall, George McGinnis, and Herb Ryman.. The attraction concept continued to be refined over the coming years by WED Enterprises, and in June 1966, the "Space Port" attraction was called "Space Mountain" for the first time.
WED partnered with Arrow Development Company, the same company that had helped design the Matterhorn's roller coaster systems years before. The initial concept was to have four separate tracks, but the technology available at the time, combined with the amount of space required versus that which was available within Disneyland, made such a design impossible. Walt Disney's death in December 1966 and the new emphasis on preparing for the newly-announced Disney World project forced WED to put aside the design of Space Mountain indefinitely. The Magic Kingdom's early success, and its unexpected popularity with teens and young adults, prompted WED to begin planning thrill rides for the new park shortly after its opening in October 1971. A new Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction was considered, but it wouldn't fit within Florida's Fantasyland.
Ultimately, designers returned to the Space Mountain concept; the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland had the right amount of available land, and computing technology had improved significantly since the initial design phases. To help cover the cost of developing and building Space Mountain, Card Walker, the CEO of Walt Disney Productions, convinced RCA chairman Robert Sarnoff to sponsor the new attraction; RCA was contracted by Disney to provide the communications hardware for the Walt Disney World Resort, and their contract stated that if Disney presented an attraction of interest, RCA would provide USD$10 million to support it.
The inside of the structure, the queue area, the tracks of the roller coaster, and the post-show each went through a large number of various design changes before the current layout was selected. Originally, the mountain was to be positioned in the southern portion of Tomorrowland, which would be where Disneyland would install their Space Mountain in 1977. Instead, it was placed outside the park's perimeter berm, roughly due east of Cinderella Castle, with a tunnel (called the "star corridor") under the Walt Disney World Railroad tracks installed for guests to reach it.
Guests board the trains in the Space Port, which is enclosed within the dome itself. The ride dome is hollow and 300 ft in diameter, allowing waiting guests and passengers aboard the Tomorrowland Transit Authority to see many of the different effects used in the attraction.
As the rockets leave the Space Port, they travel past the loading area, the Space Port queue, and the Mission Control Booth for the Space Port, where they make a brief stop to await their turn to proceed to the lift hill. After this brief stop, the vehicles wind down a small slope and enter a tunnel of circular and flashing blue lights, while a repetitive sound, meant to signify a building of energy, propels the trains along the track to the opposite end of the dome. At the far end, the trains make a 180 degree turn around and then start climbing up the lift hill. A mirror positioned here gives the illusion that riders are about to collide with another rocket.
A projection of Earth, stars, comets, meteors, and asteroids can be seen when looking past the lift hill bay's open ceiling. It is possible to make out trains climbing the lift hill on the other side and also rockets passing through on the side, as well as the Tomorrowland Transit Authority passing through the lift hill bay. Once at the top, space shuttles then make a small and quick dip before plunging into numerous twists and turns as the shuttles travel through the dome in near-complete darkness, including the coaster's steepest drop of 39 degrees. The ride ends with the trains passing through a red swirling wormhole, before hitting the final brake run and entering the unload station.
Space Mountain closed on April 19, 2009 for a lengthy renovation project. It was the first extensive renovation since a previous closure in September 1999, and was estimated to cost USD $12.3 million.
A major component of the renovation was to have been the installation of new track for the roller coasters, utilizing the original layout. Ultimately this plan was scaled back, with only small sections of track being replaced. Stated one Disney spokeswoman, "We're retaining many of the classic elements that made Space Mountain a rite of passage at the Magic Kingdom that's been enjoyed by generations." Other renovations included an upgraded queue area, including some new interactive elements, and a new ceiling for the dome's shell. Pictures and updates of the new queue were released on November 10, 2009. The new queue includes interactive games that can accommodate up to 86 players, and last about 90 seconds. The new loading area has been enclosed, and is lit with blue soft neon lighting.
On November 13, it was also confirmed that the refurbished Space Mountain would have on-ride photos. The cameras on both tracks are positioned at the end of the blue strobe tunnels at the beginning of the ride, in the 180 degree turns leading to the lift hill. The ride soft-opened to guests on November 13, 2009. Fastpass began running the following week. Space Mountain was officially reopened on November 21, 2009.
Changes with the ride are very obvious upon entering the loading station. Blue neon lights light up the ceilings above the queue, with black windows looking out into space recessed into the ceiling, where guests can see projections of stars, nebulae, comets, planets, and a space station. The ceilings over the loading station hide the station from the eyes of riders on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Riders can choose to ride one of two tracks: Alpha, the left hand track, or Omega, the right hand track. The two tracks are near-mirror images of each other. Both offer the same experience for guests, with effects equally shared and duplicated, however, so as to permit for the two tracks to cross each other, the Alpha track is ten feet longer than the Omega track.
Riders then queue at newly installed loading gates and enter the six person rockets. Pulling out of the loading station, riders make a 180 degree turn and come to a stop in a purple lit tunnel while waiting for the train in front to climb the lift hill. After a few seconds, the holding brake is released and the trains roll down a slope into a blue strobe tunnel. These blue lights flash at a slow rate, but gradually flash at a faster rate.
A repetitive warping sound signifies an energy charge as the riders roll towards a blue orb. At the far end of the tunnel, a field of stars appears as the blue strobe lights turn off. This is followed shortly afterwards by the strobe light effect of the flash of the on-ride photo camera taking pictures of the riders. These photos can be viewed at the unload station, and purchased at the Tomorrowland Light & Power Company Arcade after the ride. After the camera flashes, the trains climb up the lift hill.
Another train may pass by the riders climbing the lift hill. It is also possible to make out riders on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority passing through the lift hill bay, as well as riders on the other track climbing the lift hill. At the top, riders descend a short drop and then descend through a series of turns, sharp climbs, and steep drops in the darkness of the dome. The ride ends with trains passing through a red swirling wormhole and then hitting the final brake run, before returning to the unload station.
Space Mountain underwent a seven month overhaul in 2009. Although it did have some renovations in 1999, the changes were minor. Unlike the changes that were made during sponsorships of the ride by both RCA and FedEx from 1975 to 2005, and which mainly were on the ride's pre-show and post-show, the 2009 refurbishment marked a number of changes for not only the pre-show and post-show, but also for the main ride.
Reception of the new ride
The new Space Mountain has received mixed reviews among fans. Praise for its lack of light pollution has been nearly universal, although some guests have complained about people playing the queue games more than once and holding up the line. Some fans have voiced displeasure with the new post-show and exit sections, which were awaiting completion when the attraction reopened and are now finished with an effect resembling that of a green screen.
As of January 29, 2010, the green screen monitors are in working order.
Space Mountain has 15 trains for each side, though only 13 are usually in operation at any given time. Each train consists of two single-file rocket-shaped cars. From 1975-1989, each of these two rockets featured two seats, each seat designed to hold two passengers (the front passenger rode in the rear passenger's lap, again like the Matterhorn Bobsleds), for a total capacity of eight passengers per train. Each rider had his/her own seat belt. In 1989, the trains were completely replaced. These new trains were externally and cosmetically very similar to the originals, and still consisted of two rockets joined together.
As before, guests ride single-file. Now, however, the rockets have three seats, with one guest per seat, reducing each train's potential capacity from eight riders to six. The 1989 vehicles introduced the use of lap bars, but in 1998 the lap bars were replaced with a new T-bar design, rather than the square design previously used. On November 13 it was announced that the rockets would have a new paint scheme and new seat fabric. They now have a blue and gray color scheme.
From 1975-1993, Space Mountain was sponsored by RCA, who presented Space Mountain as an actual exhibit, more so than an experience as it is billed now. While the white and blue color scheme of the iconic Space Mountain structure remains the same, the entrance and exit building was also painted white and blue, and even included blue patterns painted on the exterior walls. The left entrance wall had the words "Space Mountain" displayed in bold, blue colored letters. The RCA logo was above this, and under the Space Mountain lettering was and still is Space Mountain's slogan "A Journey Through Time and Space", beneath this was the phrase "presented by RCA".
The ceiling and flooring for the entrance building was done in reds, yellows, and oranges. A large white pylon structure had the RCA logo placed above it in three areas, and four passengers, dressed as astronauts, were placed in an original four seater vehicle, which was attached to the pylon. Below the pylon, in a planter was Space Mountain's dedication plaque which read: "ONE GIANT STEP... Dedicated to the men and women whose skills, sacrifice, courage and teamwork opened the door to the exploration of man's exciting new frontier...outer space. Because they dared to reach for the stars and the planets, man's knowledge of his universe, earth and himself has been greatly enriched.
Presented by missile, space and range pioneers. January 15, 1975." Inside, guests entered the spacious lobby, which did not feature the current mural of the Milky Way, but was simple black and blue painted walls that had various angular designs in yellows and oranges placed upon them. There were also floor to ceiling mirrors, support columns, and blue lighting under the floor. The floors themselves were made out of a combination of plastic and vinyl and featured black textured circles sticking out of the flooring. The rest of the inside of the structure, with the exception of the warning film, and the changes made to the vehicles, remains nearly the same from 1975.
In 1989 RCA had the entrance cosmetically refurbished. The entrance door now had a yellow and black pattern around it. The entrance walls were repainted with the 1975 white and blue color scheme, but with solid and different patterns. The roof was still the same blue and white, as was the roof border, a solid white, but the ceiling was now also a solid white. The left entrance wall still featured the RCA logo, but a new font was selected for the phrase "Space Mountain", still bold, but was more angular, and now colored white. This was reflected in the phrase underneath it "A Journey Through Time and Space", and "presented by RCA" was not included in the 1989 refurbishment.
The RCA logos atop the pylon were removed, and a new three seater vehicle replaced the old four seater vehicle that was attached to the pylon. Everything else, including warning signage and other features dating back to 1975, remained the same. RCA once again had the entrance refurbished in 1992, this time all the entrance walls were covered over with blue vinyl covers. Some patterns were different than others. The 1989 left entrance wall lettering was simply placed on top of the new wall coverings. The yellow and black pattern around the entrance door remained the same. The ceiling and flooring remained the same, but the roof was now solid white, and the border to the roof was now red, white, and blue.
From 1994-2004, Space Mountain's sponsorship was held by FedEx. The 1992 entrance remained very much the same, but now the entrance and exit building was partially demolished, forcing guests exiting Space Mountain to exit into an arcade and gift shop that occupies part of the still vacant space left for the proposed but never built Tomorrowland Train Station. The left hand entrance wall, that served for years as the signage for Space Mountain was demolished in the 1994 refurbishment. The right hand entrance wall was now used for signage and simply had the words "Space Mountain" in a tall, thin, orange font, that was meant to reflect the architecture of the New Tomorrowland.
The large entrance door was kept, but now had storm shutters placed within the frame, creating a smaller entrance. New warning signage, and warning spiels also came in 1994. A new, but different pylon tower was placed over the site of the old one. It too featured the new Space Mountain font and FedEx sponsorship. The warning film was also changed in 1994 for updated footage and to also feature FedEx Sponsorship. The film included both the warning footage and the futuristic but funny "SMTV" with its space themed news program. The warning film has so far changed only three times. The original in 1975, and two updated versions both in 1985 and 1994. The FedEx footage was removed in 2005.
The entrance lobby was refurbished with an orange and brown color scheme, but still maintained the blue floor lights, and black vinyl flooring, while adding in a FedEx sponsored intergalactic tracking network mural of the Milky Way. In 1998, the original flooring was removed and a staircase was added in the left hand queue, which is now the Stand By queue. The right queue, which has a ramp instead of a staircase, making it wheelchair accessible, is for the FastPass return line. FastPass machines were also added outside of Space Mountain at this time.
In 2004 FedEx left as sponsor, leaving Space Mountain sponsorless; the majority of FedEx logos, and sponsorship themes were removed in 2005, but some, and even noticeable logos and sponsorship themes were not removed until 2009. Particularly interesting is the sign used to label Space Mountain for passengers on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. It was, until 2009, still the original 1975 frame, border, and bold and blue Space Mountain lettering.
Only the phrase "A Journey Through Time and Space" was updated in font design, along with the visual and narrated mention of Space Mountain in 2005 (a shorter version of the 1994 Peter Renaday narration was used from 2005 to 2009, saying "Now arriving in Space Mountain, Tomorrowland's gateway to the Galaxy." The original 1994 narration was slightly longer, and said "Now arriving in Space Mountain, Tomorrowland's gateway to the Galaxy, presented by Federal Express")
In mid October 2009, the original sign welcoming TTA travelers was removed, and replaced with a modified version of the 1994 Space Mountain logo, with lime green instead of orange. The 1994 Space Mountain pylon and entrance building were also redone in a similar way, with lime greens replacing orange tones. And in early November 2009, new signs inside the mountain refer to it as "Star Port Seven-Five", a nod to its opening year. The narration for Space Mountain via the WEDway Peoplemover, now Tomorrowland Transit Authority has had different spiels from 1975, 1985, 1994, 2005, and 2009, both pre-reopening and post-reopening.
From 1975-1985 the entrance and exit building had overhead speakers playing the big band and orchestral portion of RCA's song "Here's to the Future and You". The entrance lobby had the softer and less loud portion of this song, however the music heard in the Star Corridor, and the music heard in the Zig-Zag corridor near the loading station remain original from 1975. The warning spiel for the trains, and most sound effects are also original from 1975. Guests could hear music to the song "Music Makers" and "Sentimental Journeys" where the left and right side unload corridors merged together to form the line for the post show.
In 1985 RCA removed their theme song, and instead commissioned new generic music for Space Mountain. Since 1985 there is no outside area music around the exit and entrance building. Only the current warning narration spiel is played. In the lobby a composition to RCA's new song "We've Come So Far" can be heard and has remained since 1985. When guests unloaded from their ride vehicle, they entered the ride's post-show, which was also accessible for guests who decided not to experience the main roller coaster ride. From 1985-2005, the unload and merger corridor both had a slightly different soft tune to RCA's new song "We've Come so Far".
In 2005, this was replaced with a musical score commissioned for Disneyland's newly refurbished Space Mountain. After the 2009 renovations, the same songs in the queue line play, but the musical score commissioned for Disneyland's Space Mountain is no longer played in the post-show. Most of the main ride sound effects were updated and replaced.
The post show for The Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain is unique only to itself. No other Space Mountain has an extensive post show like the Magic Kingdom version, which allows it to somehow maintain its original 1975 designs as an exhibit rather than as an experience. Guests board a moving walkway, known as a speedramp, that takes guests back to Tomorrowland. As guests enter the post show, above them is a flashing warning sign and spiel, both original from 1985. To the left is a half octagon shaped room and on the right are four large octagon rooms.
All of these rooms are shown and viewed on an even surface, but after the final octagon room, the speedramp dips down at an angle, where guests go under the train tracks for the Walt Disney World Railroad. As guests travel back up to ground level, and toward the exit to Tomorrowland, the pass by other outer-space destinations Star Port Seven-Five can take them. The first two octagon rooms and the first four hexagon rooms can all be viewed from the Tomorrowland Transit Authority just after passing through the lift hill bay because their ceilings are non existent, which allows open space to look into.
The Tomorrowland Transit Authority was also closed with Space Mountain on April 19, 2009, during which time it also underwent a refurbishment. The closure was necessary due to extensive construction work planned for the roller coaster, and the inherent safety risks such activity would pose to Transit Authority riders. Additionally, Space Mountain has access doors that open onto the TTA track which can not be safely used while the attraction is running.
The Tomorrowland Transit Authority reopened on September 11, 2009. Although traveling the same path through the dome, the ongoing renovation inside was obscured by walls and posters announcing Space Mountain's re-opening date. On November 11, 2009 the construction walls were removed, providing an early glimpse of the refurbished roller coaster and post show.