The structure was designed with the help of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who also helped write the original storyline for the attraction. Both the structure and the attraction's name were inspired by the work of Buckminster Fuller. Spaceship Earth was sponsored by the Bell System originally, from 1982 until 1984. Bell was broken up into smaller companies in 1984, and its parent company, AT&T became its own independent company. AT&T would sponsor Spaceship Earth from 1984 until 2004. From 2004 onwards, German company Siemens has been the new sponsor of Spaceship Earth.
In October 1982, the attraction experience began as the ride vehicles moved up into the structure through a lighted tunnel enhanced by a fog machine, and then ascended on a spiraling track up through dark spaces featuring a series of lighted historic vignettes. The attraction featured actor Vic Perrin as the narrator along with a very simple and quiet orchestral composition throughout the attraction.
The theme of communication through the ages was developed in chronological order in theatrical settings peopled with Audio-Animatronics figures. Actors were seen declaiming in a Greek theater. Charioteers carried messages from a Roman court, and Jewish and Islamic scholars discussed texts. With typical Disney whimsy, a monk was seen fallen asleep on a manuscript he was inscribing. Michelangelo, overhead, painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, and Gutenberg manned his printing press.Suggesting the rush of 20th-century technology, subsequent scenes melded together, overlapping each other as the circumference of the ride track narrowed. A newsboy hawked papers, a movie marquee and film clips represented the motion pictures, radio and television were represented. As the vehicles reached the large space at the apex of the ride system, guests saw, on the planetarium ceiling of the sphere, projections of stars, planets, the Milky Way, and, closest and largest, "spaceship earth." The Omnimover vehicles then revolved 180 degrees, so that that the passengers were lying backward facing the "sky" as they began their descent, on a relatively straight track. The attraction ended with guests hearing scientific audio from around the world, and seeing on a series of screens, projected scenes of computer graphics, scientific data, a space shuttle launch, among others.
In May 1986, the attraction was given a slight remodel. This second version of the attraction started off with the lightened tunnel enhanced by twinkling lights, meant to depict stars, with the fog machine removed. Famous news journalist Walter Cronkite was the new narrator, reading from an updated script. A theme song called Tomorrow's Child was composed for the ending of the attraction, which was redesigned with projected images of children on screens to help fit with the theme of "Tomorrow's Child".
In August 1994, the attraction was given a major remodel. This third version of the attraction kept the lightened tunnel as it was in 1986, and maintained the majority of the scenes depicted in the beginning and middle of the attraction. Three scenes toward the end of the attraction that showed a computer in a boy's bedroom of the 1980s, a woman's office of the 1980s, and a network operations center of the 1990s, were all removed and replaced with one scene depicting a boy and girl using the internet from America to Asia via instant communication. Actor Jeremy Irons was the new narrator, reading from an updated script. A new orchestral composition was composed for the beginning, middle, and end of the attraction. The ending itself was completely redone, with the removal of the Space Station scene located in the attraction's planetarium, replacement of an old projected image of Earth in the planetarium with a new image, and replacement of the 1982 and 1986 ending scenes of the ride them with miniature architectural settings connected by color-changing fiber optic cables and arrays of blinking lights representing electronic Communication pathways. The attraction re-opened in its third version on November 23, 1994.
On July 9, 2007, the attraction was again closed for another remodel that included a number of updates to the attraction. The attraction opened again with its fourth version in February 2008, with a new score composed by Bruce Broughton and new narration provided by Dame Judi Dench. The attraction's exterior was also modified for the 2007 renovations.
In celebration of the year 2000, a large 25-story "magic wand" held by a representation of Mickey Mouse's hand was built next to the sphere. At the top of the structure was a large cut out of the number 2000. While the structure wasn't technically meant to be permanent, it is unclear as to how long the structure was intended to last. After the Millennium Celebration ended, the structure was left standing. In 2001, the number 2000 was replaced with the word "Epcot" in a script font which differs from the park's logotype. On the morning of July 5, 2007, it was officially announced by Epcot Vice President Jim MacPhee that Spaceship Earth would be restored to its original appearance and that the "magic wand" structure would be removed in time for the park's 25th anniversary on October 1, 2007. On July 9, 2007, the attraction itself was closed for refurbishment, and the surrounding area was walled off. By October 1, the entire wand structure, the stars, and the star supports had been removed. In addition, palm trees and other plants that originally stood where the structure was prior to 2000 were replaced.
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