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We’ve had a fascination of vintage Epcot for several years now. Spaceship Earth, the iconic attraction inside the park icon, has specifically intrigued us. So, we reached out to the former sponsors, Bell Systems and AT&T to see if they had any media photos in their archives that they could share.
These photos are licensed to The Mouselets and all credit is given to the AT&T Archives and History Center.
Construction of Spaceship Earth
The Spaceship Earth structure was designed with the help of a science fiction author named Ray Bradbury, who also helped write the original storyline, and Buckminster Fully, a famous architect and futurist. Disney Imagineering also consulted various third-parties like the University of Southern California, the Smithsonian Institute, the University of Chicago, and MIT.
Below is some of the earliest concept art of the attraction. You can see the original pavilion icon in orange on the supports, and the name of corporate sponsor Bell Systems directly below the Spaceship Earth sign.
In 1979, construction on the attraction broke ground. It lasted a total of 26 months, and was the first major attraction to break ground at EPCOT Center. Spaceship Earth is actually made up of two different spheres. The inner sphere acts as the buildings insultation and walls and ceiling, and the outer sphere acts as the ‘roof’ and protects the structure from weather. Between each sphere is a gutter system that collects rain water and distributes it to the World Showcase Lagoon.
After completion of the steel structure, the silver panels were added to the outside. They are made of a special material called Alucobond. Fun fact, you can actually buy a piece of Alucobond if you want to have a small piece of Spaceship Earth!
Bell System Sponsorship
In October 1982, Spaceship Earth opened, sponsored by Bell Systems. Spaceship Earth is a 13 minute slow moving ride that takes guests on a journey through time to view the history of communication. Because the theme of this pavilion is communication, sponsorship from a major communication provider was fitting. The original scenes have remained largely unchanged, even through the current attraction.
Below is an image from the original attraction with a family watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon. This scene, with slight alterations, still remains today. The basis of the original attraction has been continuously used as a guide for the layout of the attraction.
Earth Station, Post-Show Area
After guests exited the attraction, they visited the Earth Station. This area included the EPCOT Center Guest Relations, the World Key Information Kiosks, and previews of other EPCOT attractions. The Earth Station was the “hub” of the park. You could learn about all the attractions at the park, ask questions and get feedback from Guest Relations, and learn more about communication. It was an excellent example of the original intended purposes of the Future World pavilions.
AT&T also sponsored FutureCom in CommuniCore West.
In 1984, Bell Systems was broken into smaller companies. Its parent company, AT&T, became an independent company and took over the sponsorship of Spaceship Earth for the next 20 years, until 2004.
In 1986, AT&T decided it was time for a change and “Spaceship Earth 2.0” was born. The original narrator was replaced, the script was rewritten, and a new theme song called “Tomorrow’s Child” was added. There were also a few cosmetic changes made to the 360 turn at the top. The Earth Station remained until 1994, when it was transitioned into the Global Neighborhood.
1994 AT&T Renovation
In 1994, AT&T did a major ride renovation. Technology had changed significantly in the past 10 years, and staying true to their company mission, AT&T wanted to modernize the attraction to better reflect the progress made in the field of communication.
The majority of the scenes remained untouched, but the script was rewritten, the theme song was replaced, and the a new narrator was brought in. The most notable change was the complete overhaul of the top of the attraction. We have an article detailing these changes here.
AT&T also changed Earth Station into Global Neighborhood (1994-1999), and New Global Neighborhood (1999-2004). This new post-show included hands-on exhibits of AT&T communication technology including a huge, larger than life telephone where guests could phone relatives from inside a sound proof booth. Guests could also “Ride the AT&T Network” on a simulator platform.
During your simulated cruise on AT&T’s fiber optic information superhighway, you experience the constant flow of information – from encyclopedias to thousands of phone conversations to movies-on-demand – that crisscross AT&T’s networks at any given moment.
1999 Post-Show Renovation
In 1999, to coincide with the Millennium Celebration, AT&T updated the post-show again. The original Global Neighborhood exhibits were removed and replaced with a large tree made of thick steel cable sitting. The tree sat on a transparent floor. Through this floor, the guests could see the cables that ran to and from the tree to make the camera function. The renovated area included also other hands-on attractions including:
- Interactive Wonderland — guests explore the information highway with Alice and the Cheshire Cat — video shopping, movies-on-demand and film critic reviews, or viewer-choice sporting event broadcasts and the camera angles for viewing them.
- Communications Breakthrough — a video-telephone game played against other guests where players are challenged to knock glass bricks from a computer-graphic wall with electronic “paddles” to build a communications link with other participants.
- What’s in a Word — guests translate humorous idioms from one language to another, demonstrating the difficulty and potential of electronic translation.
- Electronic Finger Paint, Portrait Puzzle and Color Match — three games illustrating communications which do not depend on language.
- Story Teller Phones — guests can phone friends or relatives and choose appropriate sound effects from a video wall to “fool” friends into thinking they are calling from a jungle, a haunted house or a cartoon world.
End of at&T Sponsorship
At the end of 2004, the AT&T sponsorship ended. The New Global Neighborhood post-show area was closed up with walls advertising the new sponsor.
Finally, in 2007 Siemens took over sponsorship of the attraction and the post ride area opened as Project Tomorrow, which still remains today!