You Are Cleared For Launch

I distinctly remember the first time I stepped into a rocket and got dragged up that hill on Space Mountain. It was a rush, even more than being jetted off or going upside down. This was a roller coaster in the dark. What could be scarier. For some people, it combines fears of heights, darkness, and roller coasters themselves. For the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland park, I believe it is the ultimate family friendly thrill and a testament to the creativity of Disney Imagineering.

Space Mountain opened at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World first in 1975 but the ideas date back to Disneyland while Walt Disney was alive. After seeing the Matterhorn become a hit as the first “mountain” at Disneyland, plans were made to create another mountain. The original concept for Disneyland was to have four different tracks to keep the experience different and for a roller coaster in Tomorrowland to become a multiple ride attraction. With the lack of space at Disneyland as well as the lack of technology at the time, the Space Mountain of the 1960s was not feasible. The project was then shelved due to Walt’s death as well as the Walt Disney World project.

When Walt Disney World was finished and the park became a hit with young adults and teens as well as families, Imagineering decided the Magic Kingdom park, the only park at the time, needed more thrill rides. A new Matterhorn Bobsled attraction was initially planned but was scrapped when the Fantasyland seemed radically different and guests wouldn’t accept the mountain in that area. (Magic Kingdom had a Renaissance feel rather than an old German village.) The Space Mountain idea that had been shelved was once again brought up and would definitely fit into Tomorrowland, especially since Tomorrowland was lacking in attractions compared to other lands in the Magic Kingdom. Technology had also caught up with the team at Imagineering and they could keep all of the roller coaster systems under computer surveillance rather than hand cranks. To help cover costs in building the show building as well as the tracks, cars, and computer system, RCA was contacted. RCA had done business with Disney earlier, providing all of the communication hardware throughout Walt Disney World. They agreed to put up $10 million for Space Mountain and became the first sponsor of the attraction.

The Magic Kingdom’s first thrill ride had soft openings in December of 1974 and was officially opened to the public in 1975. James Irwin, the pilot of the lunar module on Apollo XV, was the first official guest on Space Mountain. The attraction at Walt Disney World has two separate tracks, keeping with the initial Walt Disney idea and making Space Mountain a multi-ride attraction. It is also the first roller coaster to completely engulf riders inside a show building. As a child I wondered why many other parks hadn’t done something similar and I still think this to this day. Disney is a true trend setter because of this. The modern look of the building, having the support beams of the roof on the outside instead of on the inside was done so that stars could be projected onto the domed roof indoors and look real. This look still holds up today and is one of the most interesting,  unique, and recognizable buildings at any Disney park.

The thrill ride became a big hit at Walt Disney World and Disney took notice. A Space Mountain for Disneyland was quickly put on the drawing board, but the attraction building wouldn’t just house the thrills this time around. Disneyland’s version also housed an outdoor theater area, an arcade, and a quick service restaurant. The $20 million dollar building took two years to build, but just like its Magic Kingdom counterpart, it was an instant hit with guests. The track layout is radically different than that at Walt Disney World because of space limitations, but much like the Magic Kingdom, the support is on the outside giving this white mountain the same look as it’s sister on the other side of the states. Six of the original Mercury astronauts were the first riders on the Disneyland version which made this an even bigger opening than the original in Florida.

The Disneyland version of the attraction has gone through several improvements that have added to the experience. In 1996, a music track was added combining the California surf music style with a 1950’s sci-fi movie soundtrack. The music was upgraded again with a refurbished Space Mountain at the 50th anniversary of Disneyland in 2005. The new soundtrack took more from spy movies or The Incredibles than anything else. It was a big band soundtrack that added a fun dimension to the ride experience. Neil Armstrong was also on hand at the re-opening in 2005 and was awarded a plaque. New additions were also added, including special effects as well as new rockets that didn’t glow in the dark, keeping the attraction as dark as it possibly could be.

Beyond the fun of the original attraction at Disneyland, there were two alternate rides through space, Rockin’ Space Mountain and Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy. Rockin’ Space Mountain adds a soundtrack from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and new visuals are added including strobe lights and neon colored track lighting. For the Ghost Galaxy layover, several ghosts are added in reflecting along the dome “swiping” at guests riding along the track. Outside of the building, imagees are projected on to the white exterior giving the mountain a unique look for Halloween time.

Of course, Walt Disney World’s version has also had some welcome changes. The most predominant change at the Magic Kingdom is the interactive queue. As one of the original interactive queues, it features a video game you can play while you are waiting, similar to that of Asteroids. It is a great way to wait while you are not in the fast pass lane. Keeping guests interacting in line during one of the longer waits in the park.

Of course, like anything else that has become popular, Space Mountain made its way to Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney, and the most recent, Hong Kong Disneyland. It is a hit throughout the world and still a one of a kind attraction that can not be passed up during any visit to a Disney park. Is it a part of your routine?

Josh Taylor
Follow Me On Twitter: @kidredo
Email Me: disneyparkhistory@yahoo.com

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Posted on June 28, 2012, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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