Since Space Mountain first opened at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 1976, the indoor roller coaster-style attraction has become synonymous with Disney Parks. Versions of the ride have been built at every Disney destination in the world (except Shanghai, which got TRON: Lightcycle Power Run instead). However, while the Space Mountains in Anaheim, Tokyo, and Hong Kong are essentially the same experience as Orlando, Paris initially got something completely different.
This is the story of the how the European Resort got the most unique Space Mountain in the world — and why it only lasted a decade.
Disneyland Paris Origins
To understand how Paris got the Space Mountain it did, we have to go back to the park’s origins. The park, then known as Euro Disneyland, was designed by a team of second-generation Imagineers led by the legendary Tony Baxter. Instead of building a carbon copy mixture of Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, as had been done in Tokyo, Baxter and company chose to go in a different direction with the park. While similar in layout and land themes, Euro Disneyland would have a hyper-realistic attention to detail and story, linking the attractions within each land to a grander story and mythology.
Of all the park’s lands, Euro Disneyland’s Tomorrowland was the most radically reinvented in the design process. Gone was the space-age, post-modern design of Anaheim, Orlando, and Tokyo, and its place was Discoveryland: a steampunk “future that never was” inspired by the writings of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. During this initial planning, the land’s main attraction was supposed to be a massive showcase attraction known as Discovery Mountain.
The massive “mountain” was planned to house a full-scale version of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus submarine in a lagoon (complete with underwater restaurant), a clone of EPCOT’s Horizons attraction, a Disneyland Railroad station, a free fall tower themed to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, and most importantly a version of Space Mountain based upon Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. The multiple interconnected attractions housed in one themed-show building complex was reminiscent of Marc Davis’s legendary Thunder Mesa project, and unfortunately would meet a similar fate.
As construction on the Paris Resort began in earnest, Discovery Mountain – and its astronomical budget – was one of the first things cut. Instead of being cancelled, the project was shifted to Phase 2 of the Resort, meaning that Disney planned to build it 3-5 years after the Resort opened to draw repeat visitors back and keep the park fresh. However, as we’ve seen before, pushing projects to Phase 2 only works if Phase 1 goes according to plan, and the opening of EuroDisneyland certainly didn’t go according to plan.
The opening a EuroDisneyland was, to put it mildly, a disaster. Thousands of words could be dedicated to the reasons why (we dug into it here), but for our purposes the short version is that an economic downturn combined with an overbuilt number of hotel rooms and hostility from many French citizens nearly doomed the Resort. Attendance was well below expectations, which in turn led to much lower than anticipated profits. Suffice to say, Disney desperately needed to save their new park, and they turned to Space Mountain to do so. Disney quickly green-lit the attraction in an attempt to revive the park’s fortunes. However, it wouldn’t be the originally planned Discovery Mountain, as everything except the coaster was cut.
While it wasn’t the massive complex that was initially planned, the version of Space Mountain (changed from Discovery Mountain just weeks before opening) that opened in Discoveryland was different than anything Disney had ever built before. For starters, it was a full-out, technologically advanced thrill ride. The coaster featured an uphill catapult that launched riders from 0 to 44 mph in 1.8 seconds, had three inversions, and boasted synced on-board audio — all firsts for a Disney attraction. The ride did not sacrifice story for thrills, however, as the entire coaster was meticulously themed to Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (In fact, the attraction’s full official name at opening was Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune).
These thematic details included a heavily themed queue which put guests in the Baltimore Gun Club, preparing to be launched in the organization’s “Columbiad Cannon” (the launch tunnel that catapults riders to begin the ride). During the attraction itself, guests sped through space past asteroid mining equipment and other space related props before reaching the moon (styled after the moon as seen in Georges Méliès’ 1902 movie adaptation of Verne’s novel) before returning to Earth.
Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune was a massive success upon its opening in 1995. Not only was the attraction critically acclaimed, but it also helped save the Resort financially. It’s opening led to a profit of $22.8 million for the year, the first time the Resort was in the black in its history. For the next decade, the attraction remained the Resort’s signature E-Ticket attraction. However, in 2005 Disney once again needed to call upon Space Mountain to save the Resort financially, this time for the worse.
After several years of relative financial stability, the Disneyland Paris Resort (as it was then known) was once again thrown into uncertainty thanks to the 2002 opening of the Walt Disney Studios Park. The second gate was not well-received, as the park was quite small with few attractions. Desperate to turn things back around with a big new attraction to draw in crowds without spending too much money, Disney decided to retheme Space Mountain.
While they changed nothing structurally about the coaster, Disney removed nearly all of the Steampunk/Verne theming – and the attraction’s story along with it. The Victorian-era props were replaced with more modern designs, the moon at the ride’s climax became a supernova, and the story became a generic “trip to space” just like the other Space Mountains around the world. This version of the attraction was known as Space Mountain: Mission 2.
While Mission 2 remained a popular E-Ticket ride, especially with thrill-seekers, many Disney fans missed the initial incarnation. When the coaster went down for a major refurb in 2017, some got their hopes up that the classic journey to the moon was returning. However, it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, the ride reopened as Hyperspace Mountain, themed to the Star Wars films. The attraction now features a queue and props themed to the film franchise, with almost no traces of the original Jules Verne theme remaining.
For a decade, Disneyland Paris featured a Space Mountain that couldn’t be found anywhere else in the world. Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune was a masterpiece of Imagineering, mixing thrills and story like few other attractions ever have.
Did you have a chance to experience it during its all-too-short lifespan? Let us know in the comments below.
Get more Disney history at the links below!
- Five Crazy Myths Surrounding Disney’s Haunted Mansion
- Seven Technologies We Can’t Wait for Disney to Bring to its Parks
- The Evolution of Disney Springs: From the Marketplace to Downtown Disney and Beyond
- Why Disney Would Like You To Forget Disneyland Paris’ Opening Day
- Five Things We LOVED about the Studio Backlot Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios