When planning my vacations to Disney World, I would always request a seat on the left side of the plane. I knew that if we approached the airport from the south, I could see Spaceship Earth as we came in for a landing. This was a major thrill for me as I knew I was almost “home.”
Spaceship Earth also had special meaning for me at the end of my vacation. After touring the parks for a week or more, I would always choose to spend my last evening in Epcot. Since I had to get back to my room and pack for an early morning flight, I usually didn’t stay for Illuminations, but would leave the park shortly after dinner. But before exiting, I would ride Spaceship Earth one final time. After all, it would be several years before I returned and I wanted to enjoy my favorite Epcot attraction once more. This was always a bittersweet experience, knowing that this was my last adventure before leaving Walt Disney World.
The early concepts for Spaceship Earth called for the attraction to be housed in a geodesic dome. But the Imagineers wanted to present a more dramatic entranceway than a dome could provide. After all, walking through a doorway on the side of the structure was rather lackluster. They felt that guests should ascend into the attraction from below.
To accomplish this, a radical new concept was devised, instead of building a geodesic dome, build a geodesic sphere — something that had never been done before. Construction would be no easy task. Although still in its infancy, Computer Aided Design (CAD) was required to plan and engineer this project. One of the first challenges was to lift and support the structure above the ground. Six legs, radiating away from the sphere to give the appearance that the globe is floating, were sunk 120 to 150 feet into the earth. This was done as much to carry the weight of this behemoth as it was to keep it from blowing away in hurricane force winds. A 1/16 inch = one foot model of Spaceship Earth was tested in a wind tunnel against simulated winds of 110 miles per hour. Interestingly, no scaffolding or temporary supports were used during construction.
Spaceship Earth is actually two separate spherical structures, one inside the other. The facade of the outer sphere is positioned two feet away from the inner core. A total of 11,324 triangles make up the external surface of the sphere. These triangles are made of a substance called Alucobond. Alucobond is polyethylene plastic chemically bonded to two layers of anodized aluminum — and are self cleaning in the rain. The panels are spaced one inch apart so they may expand and contract in the heat and cold. In addition, this spacing allows rain to flow between the panels and be collected in an ingenious gutter system. The water is then channeled through the support legs and into the surrounding canals. From there it flows through a retention pond where oils and pollutants are removed before returning it to the environment.
In the end, the structure would stand 180 feet tall, have a diameter of 165 feet, a circumference of 518 feet, weigh 16 million pounds, and have a volume of 2,200,000 cubic feet. If Spaceship Earth were a golf ball, the golfer would need to be one mile tall! Construction took 26 months and over 40,800 labor hours. A model used in the planning stages of Spaceship Earth can be seen at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the “One Man’s Dream” attraction.
Spaceship Earth, a term first coined by Buckminster Fuller, was an opening-day Epcot attraction (October 1, 1982) and tells the story of communications through the ages. Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury helped Imagineers write the original script.
Many people remember Walter Cronkite as the attraction’s first narrator, but he didn’t join the show until 1986. In the beginning, Vic Perrin told the story of communication. Mr. Perrin was a character actor in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s and is best remembered as the “Control Voice” in the original version of the TV series “The Outer Limits.” In the early years, a fog machine created a mist which the Omnimover vehicles (your time machine) passed through on their initial ascent.
In May 1986, Walter Cronkite took over as narrator and voiced the attraction until early 1994. The fog machine was removed at this time and replace with a lighted tunnel representing a time-portal. In addition, the song “Tomorrow’s Child” was added to the decent.
In August 1994, Jeremy Irons replaced Walter Cronkite. Three scenes highlighting computer use in the 1980’s were removed and replaced with a single scene depicting a boy and girl using the internet to chat between the U.S. to Japan. A completely new orchestration was composed for the attraction and miniature sets were added to the decent.
The present version of Spaceship Earth debuted in February 2008. A completely new script is read by Dame Judi Dench and another new score replaced the old. Also, the decent was completely changed. The miniature sets were removed and each time machine was equipped with a touch-sensitive TV monitor. By answering a number of questions, guests can now choose and watch the type of future they may someday live in.
The Bell System was the original sponsor of Spaceship Earth. But in 1984, Ma Bell was broken up into regional companies and the parent company, AT&T took over until 2002. The attraction had no sponsor for several years until Siemens, the parent company of Sylvania which sponsors Illuminations, took over in 2005.
When Epcot first opened, each Future World pavilion had its own logo. As time progressed, they were abandoned. But when Siemens took over, a new logo was developed for Spaceship Earth. Below are the original and new emblems.
Here is an early postcard for Spaceship Earth. Notice the scene in the upper right no longer exists.
To celebrate the new millennium, Sorcerer Mickey’s arm was constructed to the side of Spaceship Earth and the number 2000 arched over a portion of the sphere. This new icon stood 240 feet tall and weighed 100,000 pounds. When the celebration ended, the number 2000 was replaced with the name Epcot.
Many hard-core Disney fans were not happy with the decision to leave Mickey’s arm and hand. They didn’t feel Mickey should be represented so significantly at Epcot. As part of the fourth Spaceship Earth update, the decision to remove the arm was made and deconstruction began on July 9, 2007.
In the early years of Spaceship Earth, the area at the end of the ride was known as Earth Station. Here you entered a sort of futuristic City Hall. A number of computer terminals lined the walls and guests could have their questions answered electronically or speak with a live person via a two-way camera.
During this time, World Showcase restaurant reservations could only be made on the same day and were secured at Earth Station. At rope-drop, guests would run to this area so they could get their first choice in dining. It didn’t take long to realize that only the early birds were going to enjoy a table-service meal at World Showcase. Sleepy heads were out-of-luck. Eventually, this policy was relaxed and guests could make reservations three days in advance. So for those of you who think getting a dining reservation at Disney World is an arduous task today, you can only imagine what it was like in the early and mid 80’s.
Have you ever wondered what’s on the second floor of Project Tomorrow (Earth Station)?
All of the Future World Pavilions have lounges in them that are used by the corporate sponsors. This provided the companies with a place to entertain clients, media, and other individuals. This next, unimpressive picture was taken in the lobby of the AT&T lounge sometime in the late 90’s.
That’s it for Part One. In the next installment we’ll take a ride on the current Spaceship Earth.