Spaceship Earth — Epcot’s Icon — Part 1

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 as seen from an Airplane

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.

Spaceship Earth Entrance - Late at Night

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.

Concept Drawing for Spaceship Earth

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 Under Construction

Spaceship Earth Under Construction

Spaceship Earth Under 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.

Panels and Drainage System

Panels and Drainage System

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.

Model of Spaceship Earth

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.

Bell Systems Logo

AT&T Logo

Siemen's Logo

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.

Original Spaceship Earth Logo

Current Spaceship Earth Logo

Here is an early postcard for Spaceship Earth. Notice the scene in the upper right no longer exists.

Spaceship Earth Postcard

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.

Mickey Arm and 2000

Mickey Arm and Epcot

No Mickey Arm

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.

Earth Station Entrance

Earth Station

Have you ever wondered what’s on the second floor of Project Tomorrow (Earth Station)?

Second Floor of Project Tomorrow

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.

AT&T Lounge

That’s it for Part One. In the next installment we’ll take a ride on the current Spaceship Earth.

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37 Replies to “Spaceship Earth — Epcot’s Icon — Part 1”

  1. Great information. I know this was created 4 years ago, but I was wondering if the structure is based on a truncated icosahedron and if so, what is at the top and bottom – the hexagon or the pentagon? I have not been there but the pictures show 6 base supports. Thank you in advance.

  2. spaceship earth is my absolute favorite, i ride it as many times as i can,,been DVC member since 1993, i am not thrilled with the changes but still love the attraction, I am a big fan of judy dench, but we need someone else to do the tour narration,,either resurect walter cronkite or have jeremy irons come back,,i think alan alda would do great… end of story…

    thank you

  3. Hi Jack,

    First of all, thank you for this amazing blog! I stumbled across it while looking for WDW restaurant reviews in planning my first trip back to Orlando since 2003. I used to go every year as a child, so it’s really wonderful to see all your photos of what the park used to look like as compared with now. Please keep the posts coming! : )

    Regarding this entry on Spaceship Earth’s history, I read in an Imagineering book that it is actually not a perfect sphere per say, but is actually made up of two main pieces, one of which includes the supporting “legs.” This is the first time I’ve actually seen a photo that shows the bottom half of the structure while it was being constructed and in fact you can definitely see that the “legs” are a cohesive part of the “sphere” not just supports that were added on separately. So, I just thought it was interesting to note that Disney used a bit of its imagineering magic to make visitors believe that Spaceship Earth is a sphere, when it actually is not!

  4. Jack-
    My first visit to Epcot was at the age of 3 in 1984, and to this very day, Spaceship Earth remains my favorite attraction. It is always my first and last ride on a trip to the World. Magic Kingdom is nice, but I don’t feel like I’m at Disney World until I’m looking up at the giant geodesic sphere. Great coverage of an often overlooked attraction!

  5. Jack:

    Once again, great blog! Spaceship Earth has long been my favorite WDW attraction. I must admit though, I miss Jeremy Irons! I guess I’ll eventually learn to love Dame Judi Dench. I’m not good with change!

  6. I do the same thing: make Spaceship Earth the last ride on my last day @ EPCOT! I’ve never seen the pic of the ball without it’s “skin” and love it. I treasure our family pics from in front of SE (several years apart) and never really liked the Mickey wand either.

  7. Jack,
    Yet another Great blog. Very cool to see the construction photos! Thanks. Funny thing is as a kid dreaming of visiting WDW I had in my head for some reason that all of EPCOT was inside the “Ball”. I only learned later that the “Ball” was just one single attraction at EPCOT. Knowing so however, never decreased my interest and fascination with it. In fact when I finally did make it to WDW at age of 26, the first attraction I hit when visiting EPCOT for the first time was Spaceship Earth and I thought it was the greatest. I love the spot where you finally reach the peak and can see the Earth in all its glory. Since my first visit to WDW I am now hooked and have returned at least once a year 🙂 Thanks!!


  8. Jack,

    As always, insightful and fantastic. What a great look at one of the most ingenious, yet often overlooked, feats of engineering! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Jack,

    Loved this blog. This attraction is always the first one and the last one of our trip. It is my favorite attraction in all four parks.

    In the beginning of the ride, I always smell that smokey air that reminds me of Futureworld and all my past Epcot trips. I guess it’s just one more way that Disney emerses you in every attraction…smell, sound, sight etc. Even when you don’t realize it’s happening, memories are being stored in your mind!

    Next week we can discuss the lighted pavers in the walkway.

    Thanks for sharing!!

  10. hey jack
    thanks for the great story on spaceship earth or as I always call it, the golf ball. It is one of my favorite attractions at Epcot and i can’t wait until part two is done. keep up the great work.

  11. This is my 11 year old daughter’s favorite ride and a must do each time we go. I like the new ending, as did the kids. Seeing your picture on the ceiling is quite a thrill for the kids.
    Thanks for all your blogs. I love them.
    Which direction do you fly into Orlando? I would love to know if coming from the North, the left side is the Disney side.

  12. Jack this is a none miss for our family every year in Sept. Our whole family loves this ride. Thanks for another great blog

  13. Spaceship Earth is my all-time favorite. I particularly love the purple/yellow lighting at night – I could plop myself down and gaze at it all night. However, I do lament the demise of “Tomorrow’s Child” (luckily I have it on CD) and the sparkling green city on the descent back to Earth.

  14. That was a great blog, spaceshipearth has to be my favorite attraction. however, i really didnt care too much for the change. an i am very familir with judy dench, i watch her all the time in the british comedys shown here in NJ..but the narration just doesnt do it, bring back jeremy, or if possible,,walter (only kidding of course) i just feel a mans voice suits SSE

  15. I forgot about Earth Station, I remember making reservations for either Coral Reef or San Angels way back when. What a trip down memory lane. I love to see how the attractions have changed over the years and remember the ones that are no longer with us. Thanks for the memories.

  16. Hi Jack,

    Awesome blog as always. I didn’t know that Spaceship Earth was the first geodesic sphere to ever be constructed! The entrance to the ride will hold new meaning to me. The construction of the whole sphere is brilliant, and the early construction photos are really cool to see.

    The first time I saw Spaceship Earth, it had the Mickey wand. I’m fine with it not being there 🙂

  17. Agree with many above, another fantastic article!

    Your knowledge of the history and your the pictures you have are second to none!

    I second the thoughts of some above…I liked the Mickey arm on the sphere and did not like when they were taken down. I think it brought an additional WOW factor to the site and although alone the WOW is there, the arm made you remember that “it was all started because of a mouse.” Excuse me if I quoted incorrectly.

  18. Great Article Jack as always!! We were in Epcot on Jan 8 and were chosen as VIP’S at Spaceship Earth. We got to go up to the lounge , have refreshments and see the cool computer “games” and exhibits they have “up there”! It was exciting to be picked for that! Then they took us on the ride through a special entry way! It was a great experience!
    ps. they also gave us these cute little key chain hand sanitizers as a souvenir!

  19. dear jack: thank you for the memories. until i read it here, i never put together the voice (perrin) with my other favorite show (outer limits). i always thought the show had a familiar sound, but you solved the mystery! and i, too, remember seeing those reservation cast members in ”tv sets” where you could talk to real people…it was pure futuristic disney magic at its best! thank you & as always, great blog!!

  20. I was looking at my Disney calendar the other day (February hosts the Spaceship Earth picture – Epcot Ball we call it in our family) and was wondering just how they created it. It just looked like an engineering marvel to create something round and unique but then to put a great ride inside – WOW. But the greatest WOW is while I was checking AllEars tonight for the latest news, I found your article about the creation of it. Thank you for the right information at the right time. I enjoyed the pictures and description.

  21. This is great, Jack. Spaceship Earth has always been one of my favorites, and while I preferred the Cronkite and Irons versions to the latest one, it’s still one the World’s best experiences.

  22. Jack,
    On our December trip to EPCOT, we rode Spaceship Earth as our last ride for the night. Everything was going along smoothly until we got to the top of the ride where you are facing the image of the Earth from space. The ride was stopped. At first, we thought it was simply someone being helped onto or off the ride. We waited for about 10 minutes (which seemed like an eternity since it was after midnight). Over the loud speaker, we were finally told that a cast member would be around soon to walk us out. This was one of the highlights of our trip! We were taken a long steep staircase (probably around 7 flights of steps). I always love to see backstage Disney, but this being one of our favorite rides, it seemed that much more special. We took lots of pictures during our walk out and we now have a unique Disney memory!

  23. Thank you for great memories of Spaceship Earth. I visited Epcot it the early days and remember standing with my parents while they made reservations in that building. I thought it was neat being face to face with the reservationists. Can’t wait for your next blog on Spaceship Earth.

  24. Jack,

    Wow! How do you find out all of this stuff? I’ll never look at Spaceship Earth the same way again. The first picture of this blog was amazing. I personally wish that they had kept the Mickey arm up, because it had been there ever since my very first trip to Disney World. This blog was great; I can’t wait for part 2!

  25. Jack,
    Just like you I always make my last ride Spaceship Earth. It has been my favorite since my first visit in 1989. Thanks for the history on my favorite ride, and I look forward to part two!

  26. Jack –
    Spaceship Earth has always been my favorite part of Epcot and I love all the information you have to share about it! Thanks for all of your fantastic articles on everything Disney!

  27. Thanks for another great blog Jack! Needless to say I was a not a huge fan of the new ride vechiles and I miss the Jeremy Iron narration of my childhood. But after riding with my nephews 7 and 8 in September, they LOVED the new ending and really had fun so I am glad a new generation of kids (who are really hard to impress these days)will find something to love about this amazing and classic attraction. Keep up the great work!

  28. Spaceship Earth is one of are families favs as well, I enjoyed reading all about it, looking forward to reading more!

  29. Jack,

    This blog was great! I wanted to let you know that I have visited the AT&T lounge since Spaceship Earth has been redone, and I can say that it has been refurbished very nicely as well! The lounge is decorated with a very modern touch, has coffee and refreshments, and even has several video games to play. Just wanted to let you know on the update in case you haven’t visited since the refurbishment. Thanks for all your blogs!

  30. Great piece! Spaceship Earth was one of my favorite attractions during my childhood. When I introduced my kids to Epcot last year (6 and 3) Spaceship Earth was their favorite from the whole trip, and we went to MK! We visited recently during the holidays, and it had to be one of our first stops. An attraction becomes truly special when people regardless of age can share in the wonder that it can bring about.

  31. Jack,

    EXCELLENT blog! I really love learning all the tidbits of information you put out there. Spaceship Earth is one of my favorite rides as well! Looking forward to the other blogs!

  32. Jack, I am pleased to be one of the first to comment on another spectacular educational and entertaining look into WDW’s past. For those of us that live far away and need to relive our past visits, your insightful trips into WDW history make it all seem so close. Thank you once again.