November 9, 2009

A Kingdoms Mountain to Space

 HerbRymanSpaceMtn-1The Space Mountain concept was a descendant of the first Disney "mountain" attraction, the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, which opened in 1959. The Matterhorn's success had convinced Walt Disney that thrilling rides did have a place in his park. In 1964, Walt first approached designer John Hench with his idea for a new attraction that would be the focal point of a renovated Tomorrowland planned for 1967. His "Space Port" would include a roller-coaster-style ride in the dark, with lighting and other special effects. Over the next few years, the attraction concept continued to be refined by WED Enterprises, and in June 1966, the "Space Port" attraction was called "Space Mountain" for the first time.


WED partnered with Arrow Development Company, the same company that had helped design the Matterhorn's roller coaster systems years before. The initial concept was to have four separate tracks, but the technology available at the time, combined with the amount of space required versus that which was available within Disneyland, made such a design impossible. Walt Disney's death in December 1966 and the new emphasis on preparing for the newly-announced Disney World project forced WED to put aside the design of Space Mountain indefinitely.



The Magic Kingdom's early success, and its unexpected popularity with teens and young adults, prompted WED to begin planning thrill rides for the new park shortly after its opening in October 1971. A new Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction was considered, but it wouldn't fit within Florida's Fantasyland. Ultimately, designers returned to the Space Mountain concept; the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland had the right amount of available land, and computing technology had improved significantly since the initial design phases. To help cover the cost of developing and building Space Mountain, Card Walker convinced RCA chairman Robert Sarnoff to sponsor the new attraction; RCA was contracted by Disney to provide the communications hardware for the Walt Disney World Resort, and their contract stated that if Disney presented an attraction of interest, RCA would provide $10 million to support it.


The inside of the structure, the queue area, the tracks of the roller coaster, and the post-show each went through a large number of various design changes before the current layout was selected. Originally, the mountain was to be positioned in the southern portion of Tomorrowland, which would be where Disneyland would install their Space Mountain in 1977. Instead, it was placed outside the park's perimeter berm, roughly due east of Cinderella Castle, with a tunnel (called the "star corridor") under the Walt Disney World Railroad tracks installed for guests to reach it.

Guests board the trains in the Space Port, which is enclosed within the dome itself. The ride dome is hollow and 300ft in diameter, allowing waiting guests and passengers aboard the Tomorrowland Transit Authority to see many of the different effects used in the attraction. Guests can also see the glow-in-the-dark vehicles traveling along the respective left (Alpha) and right (Omega) side tracks. As the rockets leave the Space Port, they travel past the loading area, the Space Port queue, and the Mission Control Booth for the Space Port, where they make a brief stop to await their turn to proceed to the lift hill. After this brief stop, the vehicles wind down a small slope and enter a tunnel of circular and flashing blue lights, while a repetitive sound, meant to signify a building of energy, propels the trains along the track to the opposite end of the dome. At the far end, the trains make a 180 degree turn around and then start climbing up the lift hill. A projection of Earth, stars, comets, meteors, and asteroids can be seen when looking past the lift hill bay's open ceiling. It is possible to make out trains climbing the lift hill on the other side and also rockets passing through on the side, as well as the Tomorrowland Transit Authority passing through the lift hill bay. Once at the top, space shuttles then make a small and quick dip before plunging into numerous twists and turns as the shuttles travel through the dome in near-complete darkness, including the coaster's steepest drop of 39 degrees. The ride ends with the trains passing through a red swirling wormhole, before hitting the final brake run and entering the unload station.

The Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain is the only version that has two roller coaster tracks within the iconic mountain structure. They are mirror images of each other, with only minor variations to allow the tracks to cross one another as needed. The left side track is called Alpha while the right side track is called Omega. Both tracks offer the same experience for guests, with effects equally shared and duplicated, however, one might note that the Alpha track is slightly longer than Omega by about 10 feet.800px-WDW_SpaceMountain_LightsOn

Space Mountain has 15 trains for each side, though only 13 are usually in operation at any given time. Each train consists of two single-file rocket-shaped cars. From 1975-1989, each of these two rockets featured two seats, each seat designed to hold two passengers (the front passenger rode in the rear passenger's lap, again like the Matterhorn Bobsleds), for a total capacity of eight passengers per train. Each rider had his/her own seat belt. In 1989, the trains were completely replaced. These new trains were externally and cosmetically very similar to the originals, and still consisted of two rockets joined together. As before, guests ride single-file. Now, however, the rockets have three seats, with one guest per seat, reducing each train's potential capacity from eight riders to six. The 1989 vehicles introduced the use of lap bars, but in 1998 the lap bars were replaced with a new T-bar design, rather than the square design previously used.

From 1975-1993, Space Mountain was sponsored by RCA, who presented Space Mountain as an actual exhibit, more so than an experience as it is billed now. While the white and blue color scheme of the iconic Space Mountain structure remains the same, the entrance and exit building was also painted white and blue, and even included blue patterns painted on the exterior walls. The left entrance wall had the words "Space Mountain" displayed in bold, blue colored letters. The RCA logo was above this, and under the Space Mountain lettering was and still is Space Mountain's slogan "A Journey Through Time and Space", beneath this was the phrase "presented by RCA". The ceiling and flooring for the entrance building was done in reds, yellows, and oranges. A large white pylon structure had the RCA logo placed above it in three areas, and four passengers, dressed as astronauts, were placed in an original four seater vehicle, which was attached to the pylon. Below the pylon, in a planter was Space Mountain's dedication plaque which read: "ONE GIANT STEP... Dedicated to the men and women whose skills, sacrifice, courage and teamwork opened the door to the exploration of man's exciting new frontier...outer space. Because they dared to reach for the stars and the planets, man's knowledge of his universe, earth and himself has been greatly enriched. Presented by missile, space and range pioneers. January 15, 1975." Inside, guests entered the spacious lobby, which did not feature the current mural of the Milky Way, but was simple black and blue painted walls that had various angular designs in yellows and oranges placed upon them. There were also floor to ceiling mirrors, support columns, and blue lighting under the floor. The floors themselves were made out of a combination of plastic and vinyl and featured black textured circles sticking out of the flooring. The rest of the inside of the structure, with the exception of the warning film, and the changes made to the vehicles, remains nearly the same from 1975.

In 1989 RCA had the entrance cosmetically refurbished. The entrance door now had a yellow and black pattern around it. The entrance walls were repainted with the 1975 white and blue color scheme, but with solid and different patterns. The roof was still the same blue and white, as was the roof border, a solid white, but the ceiling was now also a solid white. The left entrance wall still featured the RCA logo, but a new font was selected for the phrase "Space Mountain", still bold, but was more angular, and now colored white. This was reflected in the phrase underneath it "A Journey Through Time and Space", and "presented by RCA" was not included in the 1989 refurbishment. The RCA logos atop the pylon were removed, and a new three seater vehicle replaced the old four seater vehicle that was attached to the pylon. Everything else, including warning signage and other features dating back to 1975, remained the same. RCA once again had the entrance refurbished in 1992, this time all the entrance walls were covered over with blue vinyl covers. Some patterns were different than others. The 1989 left entrance wall lettering was simply placed on top of the new wall coverings. The yellow and black pattern around the entrance door remained the same. The ceiling and flooring remained the same, but the roof was now solid white, and the border to the roof was now red, white, and blue.2005-05-24-11-48-08

From 1994-2004, Space Mountain's sponsorship was held by FedEx. The 1992 entrance remained very much the same, but now the entrance and exit building was partially demolished, forcing guests exiting Space Mountain to exit into an arcade and gift shop that occupies part of the still vacant space left for the proposed but never built Tomorrowland Train Station. The left hand entrance wall, that served for years as the signage for Space Mountain was demolished in the 1994 refurbishment. The right hand entrance wall was now used for signage and simply had the words "Space Mountain" in a tall, thin, orange font, that was meant to reflect the architecture of the New Tomorrowland. The large entrance door was kept, but now had storm shutters placed within the frame, creating a smaller entrance. New warning signage, and warning spiels also came in 1994. A new, but different pylon tower was placed over the site of the old one. It too featured the new Space Mountain font and FedEx sponsorship. The warning film was also changed in 1994 for updated footage and to also feature FedEx Sponsorship. The film included both the warning footage and the futuristic but funny "SMTV" with its space themed news program. The warning film has so far changed only three times. The original in 1975, and two updated versions both in 1985 and 1994. The FedEx footage was removed in 2005.


The entrance lobby was refurbished with an orange and brown color scheme, but still maintained the blue floor lights, and black vinyl flooring, while adding in a FedEx sponsored intergalactic tracking network mural of the Milky Way. In 1998, the original flooring was removed and a staircase was added in the left hand queue, which is now the Stand By queue. The right queue, which has a ramp instead of a staircase, making it wheelchair accessible, is for the FastPass return line. FastPass machines were also added outside of Space Mountain at this time.

In 2004 FedEx left as sponsor, leaving Space Mountain sponsor less; the majority of FedEx logos, and sponsorship themes were removed in 2005, but some, and even noticeable logos and sponsorship themes are still around today. Particularly interesting is the sign used to label Space Mountain for passengers on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. It was, until 2009, still the original 1975 frame, boarder, and bold and blue Space Mountain lettering. Only the phrase "A Journey Through Time and Space" was updated in font design, along with the visual and narrated mention of Space Mountain in 2005.

In mid October 2009, the original sign welcoming TTA travelers was removed, and replaced with a modified version of the 1994 Space Mountain logo, with lime green instead of orange. And in early November 2009, new signs inside the mountain refer to it as "Star Port Seven-Five", a nod to it's opening year.

Space Mountain closed on April 19, 2009 for a lengthy renovation project. It will be the first extensive renovation since a previous closure in September 1999 and is estimated to cost $12.3 million.A major component of the renovation is the installation of a new track for the roller coasters, although the current layout will be left unchanged. Other renovations include an upgraded queue area, including some new interactive elements, and a new ceiling for the dome's shell. Disney officials did not indicate if this was the full extent of the project or if other changes were in store, but a spokeswoman for the park stated, "We're retaining many of the classic elements that made Space Mountain a rite of passage at the Magic Kingdom that's been enjoyed by generations." Space Mountain is scheduled to reopen on November 21, 2009.

Information from and Disney Mountains book

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