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Disney From The Twenty-Something: Spaceship Earth

Caitlin CorselloWhen Epcot comes to mind, undoubtedly the first things that people think of is Spaceship Earth. Dominating the skies in Future World, this classic attraction takes guests on a journey through time to see just how communication and technology have gotten us where we are today.

The attraction opened with the park on October 1, 1981 and was heavily inspired by architect and industrial designer Buckminster Fuller. Fuller created the design of geodesic domes and focused on using tetrahedron shapes (those iconic silver triangles) due to their resistance to pressure and strength. While Fuller designed many geodesic domes, he was never able to fully complete one as he faced problems in supporting the bottom of the structure. When Disney began to conceptualize Spaceship Earth, Imagineer John Hench came up with the idea that ultimately allowed for the full completion of the dome. Hench introduced the massive support columns found holding up the attraction, and strategically placed three quarters of the dome above the supports and the remaining quarter suspended below them. This allowed for the attraction to be structurally sound and the iconic image it is today.

The Imagineers drew inspiration from many different places while conceptualizing Spaceship Earth, and Buckminster Fuller once again provided a pivotal element for the attraction. The term Spaceship Earth was coined by Fuller in his 1969 work “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.” Its futuristic theme and grand statement made for the perfect title. In addition, author Ray Bradbury helped to design in the exterior of the structure and to write the original script. All of these contributions resulted in the breathtaking structure that we see today that is one hundred and eighty feet high and one hundred and sixty five feet in diameter. There are also over eleven thousand of the triangular panels which also serve as water collectors in those Florida downpours and redirect the water into World Showcase Lagoon.

When the ride first opened, it was sponsored by Bell Systems from 1982 through 1984 when AT&T took over sponsorship until 2004. In 2005 Siemens took over sponsorship of the attraction and remain there today. Throughout the thirty three years it’s been operating, Spaceship Earth has seen changes not only in sponsors but narrators as well. Lawrence Dobkin narrated the original version of the attraction from 1982 through 1986, Walter Cronkite provided his voice talents from 1986 through 1994, Jeremy Irons then took over as narrator from 1994 through 2007. Starting in 2008 Dame Judi Dench took over as narrator and can still be heard today. In addition to these fantastic voice talents, the musical score of Spaceship Earth is amazing itself and was composed by Bruce Boughton with the help of a sixty piece orchestra and a twenty five person choir.

Throughout guests’ journey through time and communication, there are dozens of audio-animatronics helping to tell the story. So many so that some of their faces might just seem familiar elsewhere in Walt Disney World. From the Hall of Presidents Teddy Roosevelt is an Egyptian priest and a Roman senator, Franklin Pierce and John Tyler are Islamic scholars, James Buchanan is Gutenberg, Dwight Eisenhower is a lute player, and Ulysses S. Grant is a sculptor. From the American Adventure Andrew Carnegie is standing at a printing press and Matthew Brady is a telegraph operator. Talk about multitalented!

Caitlin CorselloAs guests approach the entrance of the attraction, there is a sweeping mural depicting snippets of the story about to be told. Once inside the building, guests board omni movers for their sixteen minutes journey into the history of communication. Starting with the beginning of the world itself, Dame Judi Dench takes over and introduces cavemen who slowly learn to hunt together and communicate to survive. Soon guests will find themselves moving through ancient Egypt, Phoenician towns, and a Greek theater performing Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. Then comes one of the best smells in all of Disney World- Rome burning. A tragedy, for sure, but a great scent. Guests then find themselves in the Middle East where copies of all the great literature of the time was reproduced and not lost in the burning of the Library of Alexandria.

Guests then see the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg and communication really starts to boom. The Renaissance is depicted through artists, musicians, and even Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel. While passing through the Renaissance scene, look for a Hidden Mickey on a sleeping monk’s parchment and a classic Hidden Mickey formed by three paint can rings on a table to the left side of the ride vehicle.

After the Renaissance there is another boom in communication through the creation of radio, telegraphs, telephones, movies, and television. Look for a microphone of one broadcaster which has WDI on it, which stands for Walt Disney Imagineering. This scene also features the iconic broadcasting of man landing on the moon in 1969. Guests then see that the computers necessary to create such technology at the time were as big as an entire house, but that all that changed with the creation of personal computers in garages across California.

There is then the great reveal of beautiful Earth itself surrounded by thousands of stars. It is one of the best attraction moments throughout all of Walt Disney World, and can’t be missed. Guests then are able to answer a series of questions on the screens in front of them which result in a vignette about their personal future. It’s a cute way to add some guest participation while descending back to the unload area. Once out of the ride vehicles, guests exit through Project Tomorrow, an interactive area which demonstrates communication and technology and how they are still developing and utilized today. Take a few moments to stop at one of the kiosks and find the ride photo taken of you as you can email it to yourself, friends, and family and it makes for a great free souvenir!

Like a grand and miraculous attraction, Spaceship Earth is an iconic Disney World attraction and definitely needs to be experienced on each visit to Epcot! Just remember to thank the Phoenicians when you go!

What is your favorite moment of Spaceship Earth? Do you love the smell of Rome burning? Ever found the Hidden Mickeys or thanked the Phoenicians? Be sure to let me know by leaving a comment below, I would love to hear from you!

(Photos are from my personal collection.)