(January 15, 1975 - present)
History and photos of the Space Mountain indoor roller coaster in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
Inside of the futuristic dome at the edge of Tomorrowland is Space Mountain, an indoor roller coaster and the first thrill ride that was added to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
The concept for Space Mountain dates back to the success of the Matternhorn Bobsleds roller coaster in Disneyland in 1959. Disneyland's Matternhorn proved that not only could "mini" steel roller coasters be successful (as opposed to the large wooden roller coasters that dominated in those times), but with the right theming you could have a fantastic ride that will bring back the crowds again and again.
The only question was, what should the concept be for the next Disney roller coaster?
The answer was space . . . outer space to be precise.
It's well known that Walt Disney was also a futurist who visioned advanced concepts and technologies. In the early 1960s, Disneyland's Tomorrowland was already needing improvements to grow the land and expand on future concepts. Coincidentally, the 1960s was also the famous Space Race between the U.S. and Soviet Union. What if the excitement of riding a rocket through outer space could somehow be recreated in the form of a roller coaster? Not just any roller coaster, but a completely indoor one at that.
That's how Space Mountain was born.
Originally known as the Space Port, the roller coaster was envisioned as a massive, four-track roller coaster that would place riders in rocket cars and send them racing, twisting and turning through simulated space. As the Imagineers discovered, that initial plan was just a bit too ambitious. Such a ride building would simply require too much land. The concept was great, but the ride itself would have to be scaled back so it could fit within an appropriate structure.
Plans for Space Mountain were initially delayed to Walt and the Imagineers focusing on the projects for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. The futuristic roller coaster was again delayed because of the death of Walt Disney in December of 1966. At that point, plans for the roller coaster were placed on the shelf while attention was focused on the construction of the Magic Kingdom in central Florida.
The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971, and the park quickly experienced surges in visitors. In the early 1970s it was quickly realized that the park would greatly benefit from a thrill ride. At that point in time there was a large area of vacant land sitting in Tomorrowland, waiting for something major to be built.
Enter Space Mountain.
After a sponsorship of the ride was agreed upon with RCA, the project was given the green light, and construction began on December 15, 1972. Just over two years later the ride officially opened on January 15, 1975.
The experience for Space Mountain begins with approaching the entrance building located on the edge of Tomorrowland. There are two line queues that head to the loading stations. The line queue on the left is the stand-by line, while the line queue on the right side is the FASTPASS / handicap line. This is mainly because the left side has to go down a series of steps in the beginning, and the right side has ramps.
The line queue quickly has to descend about fifteen feet because it has to dip underneath the train tracks for the Walt Disney World Railroad. The dome and ride for Space Mountain is located outside of the railroad line, just like most of Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland. After the line queue makes its descent and passes underneath the tracks, guests then walk up a long ramp and continue winding their way to the loading stations. A refurbishment in 2009 added some interactive games to the line queue to help people occupy their time during the wait.
The Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain has two separate ride tracks, Alpha and Omega, and, thus, two loading stations. A cast member directs guests to either of the two stations. While both of the tracks are similar, they are also mirror images. While one side dominantly makes turns to the left, the other frequently makes turns to the right. The Alpha side is also ten feet longer to allow the track to cross over the other one.
The loading station has the final part of the line queue before boarding the ride. This area is now enclosed (part of the 2009 refurbishment), and futuristic blue neon is on the ceiling along with a "window" looking up into space. After being assigned a seat in the roller coaster's rocket car, guests wait behind an automatic gate before it's their turn to board the ride.
WARNING --- SPOILERS!
Each Space Mountain roller coaster train is composed of two rocket cars, each car seating three riders. The trains make their way through a series of brake safety zones before it's their turn to launch into space. Once clear of the final zone (those on the Omega side can look to their right and see people standing in line) the trains make a short drop and then go through the "energizer," a blue tunnel with strobe lights and a warping sound. The pace of the sound and speed of the lights increases until we reach the end of the tunnel, go around a tight curve, a camera flashes our on-ride photo, and we begin the slow climb up the lift hill.
While on the lift hill we can look down to see the cars and people on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover ride, and off to the side is the other track with more rocket cars. Above us is the X-1 spaceship complete with a couple of astronauts doing a spacewalk. The spaceship is in a space port, and we can look into windows and see astronaut workers at their control panels.
At the top of the lift hill we descend a short drop, make a 180 degree turn, and zoom and race through the mountain. The interior of the mountain is almost completely dark, heightening the sensations of speed and danger. Stars are illuminated on the walls, and off in the distance music is playing. It's a rocking good time as we race through outer space.
Near the end of the ride our rocket passes through a glowing red tunnel (simulates re-entry through the atmosphere), makes a few more sharp curves, and then it slows through a brake zone. The rockets then arrive at the unloading station and it's time to see our on-ride photo.
END OF SPOILERS!
After disembarking from the ride, the guests then use the moving sidewalk to make the trip back to Tomorrowland. The moving sidewalk takes guest past various futuristic scenes from on land to under the sea to living in a future city. Like the line queue, the moving sidewalk has to dip underneath the train track before climbing back to the street level. As the moving sidewalk makes the final climb, video cameras show the guests' images on a series of televisions, just like how the ride's exit did back in 1975.
The exit for Space Mountain is in the Tomorrowland Arcade. Guests can stop and play arcade games (for a fee, of course), browse through a small shop with Space Mountain gear, or simply leave the building and re-enter Tomorrowland.
PREVIOUS VERSIONS OF SPACE MOUNTAIN
Although the concept and ride for Space Mountain has been the same since the ride opened in 1975, the theming has changed several times throughout its history.
The original version of Space Mountain was sponsored by the electronic company RCA. Outside the ride's entrance was a small display featuring one of the ride's rocket cars and four passengers dressed as astronauts. The entrance music played "Here's to the Future," and inside the line queue there were assorted holographic images with star fields and other sci-fi elements. The original version of the loading station had no ceiling, allowing the people waiting in line to look up at the rocket cars, and also allowing people on the WEDWay PeopleMover to look down and see how long the wait was for the ride.
The original version of the post-show scenes on the exit ramp featured RCA's "Home Of Future Living," a series of displays showing how consumer electronics would be used in a typical home in the near future.
In 1985, Space Mountain experienced one of its first major refurbishments. In the 1985 refurbishment the attraction's theme song was changed to "We've Come So Far," and the entire post-show area was changed as well. Instead of having scenes from a futuristic home, now the guests saw scenes of what life might have been like on another planet, an experience called "RYCA-1: Dream of a New World." The final scene took place on Earth in a future city.
1989 saw another change to Space Mountain. This time the attraction's rocket cars were changed to their current configuration of three seats per car. The previous version had two seats per car, but it allowed for two people to share a seat. Now each person has his or her own individual seat and lap bar. The rocket car with the astronaut passengers on display outside of the was updated to show this change as well.
RCA's sponsorship of Space Mountain ended in 1993. Starting in 1994 the ride would be sponsored by the shipping company FedEx. Along with this change in sponsors was a large amount of new theming inside the ride, theming to match both the new sponsor as well as the New Tomorrowland.
The exterior of the attraction received a facelift along with the removal of the display with the rocket car and astronaut riders. The entrance itself had a darker look to it, and the ride's sign was painted in orange instead of blue. The line queue's entrance was given a more sci-fi look to it, and a large star map was on one of the walls. Other parts of the line queue also received updates and newer decorations as well.
One of the more entertaining parts of the 1994 refurbishment was the ride's loading station and the final part of the line queue. A series of television monitors were added, and they played SMTV, a special Space Mountain television channel hosted by TV's Mario Lopez. Although our estimated launch time was always "T-minus real close to blast off," he would continue to scan the channels for us so that we could see what was happening in the universe. The television channels included a news channel (complete with space traffic and weather reports), a music video channel, infomercials, and movie channels as well. Most of the scenes were either clips of classic sci-fi films from the 1950s, or spoofs of them. Some of the commercials included advertisements for FedEx as well as X-S Tech (the company in The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, just down the street in Tomorrowland).
The rocket cars were given a new look as well with the 1994 refurbishment. The cars lost their traditional paint job with the red nose, and now they had a grayish look to them. This time though the cars all had glow-in-the-dark stripes down their sides, making them easier to see when they're racing around the mountain.
The post-show exit ramp was also given an overhaul in the 1994 refurbishment. The scenes still showed space colonies, but the theme around them also involved FedEx. Now the scenes showed a sequence of events where astroarchaeologists made a discovery of a fossilized alien skeleton out in space, and they used FedEx to "beam" the containers of fossils back to the science laboratory on Earth. The final scene showed that one of the containers broke open and the robot scientist's dog (also a robot) had snatched one of the fossilized bones.
Another major change in 1994 was the addition of the Tomorrowland Light & Power Company arcade. Instead of exiting the ride directly into Tomorrowland, now the riders would have to pass through the arcade's building and then exit to Tomorrowland. This was a predecessor to today's common tactic of dumping the riders straight into a gift shop. As a plus, non-riders could now wait for their colleagues inside of a climate-controlled building instead of the hot Florida sun (or a summertime pop-up thunderstorm).
Around the year 2000, Disney's FASTPASS system was added to Space Mountain. Now park guests had the option of grabbing a FASTPASS ticket and returning to the ride at a later time for a significantly shorter time standing in line. The left side of the line queue was designated for the stand-by line while the right side became the FASTPASS line.
Space Mountain remained that way for ten years until FedEx's sponsorship ended at the end 2004. From 2005 through today, Space Mountain has been operating without a sponsor.
It was a quick refurbishment for Disney to remove the FedEx references throughout the attraction. Most of the theming still remained the same. The only noticeable changes were the removal of the FedEx logos, the removal of SMTV in the final part of the line queue, and the removal of the spiel and FedEx references in the post-show. Otherwise, the rest of the theming added in the 1994 refurbishment remained in the attraction.
In 2009, Space Mountain was once again temporarily closed for a refurbishment. This time around the ride itself was closed for half the year, including the busy summer time. The ride basically had all of the track replaced along with sensors and the computer system that controlled everything. The line queue received new scenes as well as an interactive series of video games, the loading station was enclosed (to both re-theme the area and to keep light from entering the main part of the mountain, making the ride itself a darker experience), and the rocket cars were given a new paint job.
The ride itself was still the same basic ride, but some of the special effects were upgraded during the refurbishment. The "energizing" tunnel has a different pattern of lights as well as different sounds, there's an on-ride photo at the end of the "energizing" tunnel (when it makes the sharp curve to the lift hill), and the interior of the mountain is a lot darker and now has music playing in the background. But the ride is still the same layout as it was back in 1975. The unloading station was also upgraded to now show the on-ride photos.
The 2009 refurbishment also changed the post-show scenes on the exit ramp. Instead of the astroarcheologists and their discovery, now the scenes showed a more realistic look at living and working in distant space colonies, whether it's on a distant moon, a sun-baked planet, under the sea, or even in a luxurious city apartment complete with a robotic butler.
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT SPACE MOUNTAIN
By today's standards for roller coasters, Space Mountain is incredibly weak. The biggest drop is just 26 feet, there are no inversions, and the top speed only reaches 27 mph. The ride was more impressive as a roller coaster back in the mid 1970s and early 1980s before other amusement parks took their coasters to towering heights, top speeds and crazy maneuvers.
If you're looking for a "real" roller coaster, try the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith in Disney's Hollywood Studios. You can also easily find roller coasters in central Florida at Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando, and Busch Gardens Tampa.
But that's not why Space Mountain is loved by so many people today.
For many of us, Space Mountain was one of the first roller coasters that we conquered. Space Mountain quickly became one of my favorite rides after I rode it with my dad when I was about eight years old. Since then that point, this thrilling ride is still one of my favorites, not because it's a small roller coaster, but because of the theming and incredible experience from start to finish. Each visit to Space Mountain is a trip down memory lane as I remember previous versions of the ride and enjoying it with my family and friends. Even today I can find many familiar areas of the ride that take me back to my childhood in the 1980s.
To this day, Space Mountain is still one of if not *the* busiest ride in the Magic Kingdom. Either ride this attraction first thing in the morning or right before the park closes. During the rest of the day it'll be jam packed with wait times exceeding forty or sixty minutes. Use the FASTPASS system if you can, but be warned that thousands of other people will be doing so as well.
If you're unsure about riding Space Mountain, take a ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover first. The PeopleMover takes guests on a tour through Tomorrowland, and that includes passing directly through the interior of Space Mountain. Inside the dome you'll be able to see the track and the cars racing around on it. At least, you can *try* to see the track as it is pretty dark in there.
No visit to the Magic Kingdom is complete without a ride or two on Space Mountain. The white dome has made this one of the most recognizable rides in the park, and, since 1975, it has also been one of the most popular rides of all time. Do not expect to find a terrifying roller coaster. Do expect to have fantastic sci-fi theming and a LOT of fun!
|FASTPASS||Space Mountain is a FASTPASS attraction.|
|HEIGHT REQUIREMENT||Riders must be at least 44" / 112 cm tall to ride Space Mountain.|
|TIP||Space Mountain is an extremely popular ride. To avoid the long wait times, ride Space Mountain at park opening or closing. Otherwise, try to use Disney's FASTPASS system to keep your wait to a minimum.|
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