(October 1, 1982 - present)
History and photos of the Spaceship Earth ride in Future World in Epcot at Walt Disney World.
Standing proudly at the entrance to Epcot is Spaceship Earth, a 180-foot tall geodesic dome that houses one of the park's signature attractions. Covering the outside of the sphere is a series of 11,324 triangular panels, each one of them being a custom fit.
Described by many people as simply "the giant golf ball," Spaceship Earth is an original attraction that takes guests on a slow-moving journey through the history of human communication. The fifteen-minute long ride uses elaborate scenes with Audio-Animatronics to help tell the story of how our communication evolved into what it is today.
The origin of Spaceship Earth is traced back to a futurist, visionary, inventor and author named Buckminister Fuller, and his 1968 book, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. In his book, Fuller compares planet Earth as that of being a spaceship travelling through outer space. We, the inhabitants of Earth, are all astronauts. This spaceship of ours has a limited number of resources, and it's up to us astronauts to work together so that we all arrive at our common destination safely. In addition to popularizing the term "Spaceship Earth," Fuller was also a proponent of geodesic domes as well as other engineering marvels. The term "Spaceship Earth" stuck with the Imagineers, and they met and consulted with Buckminister Fuller when planning the future attraction at EPCOT Center.
Throughout the years, Spaceship Earth has seen a series of upgrades and improvements. The good part is that while the narrators and some of the scenes have changed, the ride itself is still much like its original version from 1982.
One of the more radical versions of Spaceship Earth occurred not inside of the ride but rather OUTSIDE of it. As part of the Millennium Celebration, in late 1999 a giant Mickey Mouse hand and wand was added to the left side of Spaceship Earth. For the first year 2000 was written across the top of the sphere. 2000 was replaced with the word Epcot from 2001 until the wand's dismemberment in the summer of 2007. While the Mickey Mouse wand had a novelty effect for its first couple of years, it eventually became an eyesore in its later years. There was a tremendous sigh of relief when Disney finally removed the wand in 2007.
The experience for Spaceship Earth begins with approaching the massive structure. Finding this attraction is extremely simple as Spaceship Earth's unique shape and its incredible size make this structure an easy reference point. Just step out into the open and you'll probably be able to spot this ride.
Most of Spaceship Earth's line queue is housed underneath the giant sphere. The structure helps provide shade and keep any rainfall from landing on the people waiting in line. That is, as long as you're not waiting in part of the extended version of the line queue that flanks the sides of the attraction. After passing through the line queue, guests walk up a short ramp, past a mural showing scenes of human communication, and then into the ride's loading station. It's then a few steps onto a moving turntable and then into the ride vehicles.
Spaceship Earth is an omnimover attraction, one that uses a continuous chain of ride vehicles like the Haunted Mansion and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin in the Magic Kingdom. Because of this style, Spaceship Earth can cycle a very large number of people through the attraction each hour. This also helps keep the line queue continually moving and keeping wait times to an absolute minimum.
WARNING --- SPOILERS!
After taking a seat in one of the vehicles, the doors automatically close and the cars enter a dark tunnel that ascends into the giant sphere. During the climb, guests use the screen in front of them to select the language that they want to hear for the narration, and then they select where they are from. The cars will pass next to a camera that will photograph their face and use it later in the attraction.
The current version of Spaceship Earth is narrated by English actress Judi Dench. The previous narrators were Jeremy Irons, Walter Cronkite and Lawrence Dobkin.
After passing the camera, the ride vehicles continue ascending further into the structure. Now the riders are travelling back in time to the earliest days of human beings. The guests first pass by a large screen showing a scene from over 100,000 years ago as neanderthals band together and learn to communicate so they can hunt for prey as a team. The time-machine ride vehicles then advance to around 30,000 B.C. inside of a cavern as early human tell stories and paint their experiences on the walls. If you look closely, some of the cave paintings come to life and have short animations.
The next scenes take guests to ancient Egypt around 3,000 B.C. A tomb on the right side of the vehicles is covered with Egyptian hieroglyphs, one of the oldest forms of a written language. After that we see the invention of papyrus and an Egyptian Pharaoh using it to carry out his orders throughout the land.
The riders advance in time to around 1,500 B.C. and see Phoenician merchants trading goods at a port on the Mediterranean. It's explained that because of their vast trading system, the Phoenicians invented a common alphabet to help keep written records and facilitate their businesses. The ride vehicles then pass scenes of ancient Greece and riders see Greek actors performing a play. It's implied that the use of the alphabet by the Phoenicians helped develop the arts and lead to the further advancement of a society's culture.
Up next in the ride is ancient Rome and how Rome's vast network of roads helped lead to cultural unification, hence the phrase, "All roads lead to Rome." The current narration of the ride implies that this advanced network of roads and the way (and more importantly, the speed) that they helped information flow was, in a way, the world's first Internet or "information highway."
Unfortunately for Rome, those same roads allowed invaders to easily navigate and make their way to the heart of the Roman empire. The next brief scene in Spaceship Earth shows the fall of Rome. Buildings are destroyed and we can smell the fires as they continue to smoulder. As we know from history, a great deal of knowledge was lost when Rome was destroyed.
As our time-machine vehicles continue with their journey, we see that all was not lost in regards to the destruction of books and scrolls. Jewish and Islamic scholars in the Middle East had their own collections of preserved literature, and they were making advances in the sciences as well. Meanwhile, monks in Westminister Abbey are seen painstakingly copying books by hand to help preserve literature and further spread knowledge. This is viewed as one of the world's first backup systems.
The time-machine vehicles continue forward to the year 1439 and Johannes Gutenberg with his first moveable-type printing press. The invention of the moveable-type printing press made it significantly faster to print not only books but other documents as well. This revolutionary way of creating and spreading literature helped lead to the European Renaissance period. That's what we see next on the ride as people read books, play musical instruments, and focus on artwork. Two of the artists featured are Donatello working on a sculpture, and Michelangelo painting the ceiling on the Sistine Chapel.
The ride progresses further into the future on our journey through the history of human communication. It's now 1865 and the American Civil War has just ended. A mechanized printing press helps spread the news by rapidly printing newspapers to be delivered that day throughout the city. Our vehicles see another glimpse of faster communication with the invention of the telegraph. Now messages can be transmitted nearly instantly through a series of wires and human decoders. As it becomes faster to send messages longer distances, the world itself begins to shrink.
Our vehicles continue advancing as we see further advances such as radio programs and movie theaters. The advancement of the motion picture brings a whole new world of education, information and entertainment with it. Following that is the invention of the television. The ride has a scene from 1969 as a modern family watches the live television broadcast of the Apollo 11 moon landing while sitting in the comfort of their living room.
It's at this point in time that we learn that language is not just something used by human beings and animals, but with computers as well. We're still in the 1960s as our ride vehicles pass through a business featuring a large mainframe computer. There are technicians on both sides as we continue past a computer the size of a room. We advance to the early 1970s and pass through a garage in California where Steve Wozniak is building one of the first home computer systems.
We're now in the computer age and the information superhighway where human communication around the world is nearly instantaneous, and virtually any sort of information is available at your fingertips.
After passing through a short tunnel with binary code projected onto the walls, our time-machine vehicles have arrived at the top of Spaceship Earth. We're now on the Moon and looking back out our planet. The Earth is seen off in a distance and the rest of the ceiling is covered in stars. Now it's time to return home.
The ride vehicles rotate backwards, we begin a steep descent, and the video screens come back to life. The riders are asked a series of questions about what concerns them most in the near-future, from their lifestyle at home to their health to their recreations and vacations. Once all of the questions are answered, there's a short waiting time as our personalized video is created. We continue descending backwards as a short animated video uses cartoon characters to help answer all of the questions that we just answered. To make the experience more memorable, it's our faces on the cartoon characters in the short video. Remember when our picture was taken in the beginning of the ride? Here's where it's used again. You may also see your face appear again in the post-show area at the end of the ride.
When the ride vehicles reach the ground level they rotate forward again for the short remainder of the ride. We make a turn around a bend and arrive at the unloading station. The doors on our vehicle automatically open and we step onto the large turntable. After that it's a short walk down a ramp and into Project Tomorrow, the current version of the ride's post-show area. In Project Tomorrow people can have fun with a variety of interactive exhibits.
END OF SPOILERS!
In the earlier days of Epcot, Spaceship Earth was one of those attractions that was always jam packed in the morning. This was the first ride that most people saw, and the constant long lines reflected that. That crowd pattern changed after the additions of significantly more popular rides such as Test Track and Soarin'. These days it seems like Spaceship Earth is a ride that many people save for the heat of the day or when waiting for their FASTPASS for Soarin' to be active.
It's really a shame that this attraction no longer attracts the crowds like it used to. Spaceship Earth is a classic part of Epcot's history, and much of this attraction still has its nostalgic moments back to the glory days of Epcot.
No visit to Epcot is complete without a ride on Spaceship Earth. This is a family-friendly ride that might teach you some history along the way, that is, as long as you don't mind sitting down and paying attention while on vacation. If you've experienced this ride a few times and want something different, select an alternate language at the beginning of the ride.
The best time to ride Spaceship Earth is basically at any time. The mornings still tend to be the busiest for this ride, but we're talking about wait times of generally twenty minutes or less. Otherwise, the wait time is normally low throughout the day and at night. Spaceship Earth will experience long lines during the busiest of days (such as the week between Christmas and New Year's Day), but those are an exception. There's no excuse for not finding the time to enjoy this ride during your day at Epcot.
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