History of the Ride – Spaceship Earth

Today we are going to look the history of the ride within the icon of Epcot.

Spaceship Earth is the ride about the history of communication inside the large geodesic sphere that towers over the park. It weighs over 16,000,000 pounds and is 180 feet tall!

When I was a kid I would watch the videos online with the construction of the gigantic “golf ball” and I was fascinated by it. I was lucky enough to go to the park within the first year it opened, and I was so excited to see the ride inside!

An Origin from Science and Science Fiction

The WED Enterprises team (pre-Disney Imagineering) wanted an scientific and visually impressive structure, that would also become an icon for the park.  Gordon Hoopes was assigned to be the project designer on Spaceship Earth.  He said he wanted to:

“create an atmosphere for our guests that raises their spirit and kindles an excitement for the human experience in the future.””

Originally they were going to do more of a dome shape, but they decided to instead go with the sphere. The design and ideas borrowed from many sources. The name Spaceship Earth was not a new one. At this point Buckminster Fuller had already popularized the term “Spaceship Earth” from his 1968 book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.  He was also known for his earlier work in geodesic domes. Fuller did not invent the geodesic dome, but he was awarded the US patents.

When they wanted to develop the actual attraction the team consulted with several third party organizations like the University of Southern California, the Smithsonian Institute, and the University of Chicago. They also hired MIT to research wind tunnel models to determine a plan for construction taking wind pressure into account on a sphere.

(testing model)

Originally they wanted the six legs around the attraction to support it, but they couldn’t distribute the weight properly. Improper distribution could lead to collapse. To keep the design with the legs they decided to create a “table” with the legs and engineer the sphere to help support itself. So the outside shell is supported “independently of the legs.”

After a plan was made, construction took a little more than 2 years. There are actually two spheres used in this attraction. The outer sphere is the facade we see today. It utilizes a material called Alucobond,a special plastic with aluminum sheets on either side. The name comes from it’s make-up, ALUminum Composite BOND. The pieces of Alucobond are cut and formed into the triangular, pyramid shapes visible to guests.

Behind the outer shell is a two-foot space to the inner sphere. In that space between spheres, a special gutter system collects rain water and directs it away to the World Showcase Lagoon.

The Ride Inside

The inner sphere contains the ride vehicles and attraction.

The ride system used is an Omnimover system and speakers in the vehicles to provide narration on the journey through time. In 2007, screens were added for the current interactive ending.

The track itself is actually arranged in two helix shapes, spiraling the vehicles to the top of the sphere and then back down to the unloading area. You can tell when you are going back down….backwards.

The ride itself is full of special effects and animatronics. There are dozens of animatonics throughout the ride. The story is that many of the male characters are re-purposed Hall of Presidents animatronics from the Magic Kingdom. James Buchanon is Gutenberg.

Andrew Jackson could be the animatronic as Gutenberg’s assistant.

William Taft is the Egyptian priest.

Teddy Roosevelt is a Roman senator.

Zachary Taylor is the Centurion Roman Soldier.

John Adams is one of the monks

John Tyler is one of the Turkish scholars

Franklin Pierce is another scholar

Dwight D. Eisenhower is the mandolin player

Another fun fact the lira da braccio player is the daughter from Carousel of Progress

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