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This article was written by a guest writer from Instagram and contains his own memories, experiences, and pictures.
Putting aside for a moment the plethora of articles, vlogs and what not that are currently available around the very subject of “Just what IS at the top of Spaceship Earth?”, as someone who is both old and fortunate enough to have experienced every iteration of this attraction first hand, I wanted to take a moment or two and share those very memories. Because in my highly unbiased opinion, Disney is really denying today’s generation out of what was truly one of the best attractions Future World had to offer. For more details about vintage Future World and what it used to offer, check out this article: https://themouselets.com/history-of-future-world-epcot. And with that, we begin…
In The Beginning….
As most of us Disney diehard fans know, Spaceship Earth (or SSE for short) opened to the public in October of 1982 and was sponsored by Bell Telephone. The initial ascent was actually done inside a dimly-lit tunnel which was flooded by smoke from a nearby fog machine. For some reason this didn’t exactly go over well with most of the guests at the time.
On my very first ride (circa 1983), you passed through what I vaguely remember as a “moon base” before reaching the top. Upon reaching the apex of the ride, I passed by what appeared to be the moon’s surface with some sort of construction work going on. There was also a re-enactment of the Apollo moon landing (courtesy of animatronics) going on as well. You would see on the ‘planetarium’ of the ceiling, projections of the night sky.
What most folks however didn’t realize was, this projection was literally taken from the skies right above Epcot (talk about park immersion at its best). If you looked close enough into the dark space in front of the ride vehicle, you could make out the actual planetarium camera (way off in the distance) which was used in about every planetarium on the planet (at least at that time). Pretty cool huh?
As a quick side note: The actual ride space begins at approximately 52ft. above ground level, with the apex (or peak) being around 105ft.
The Loss of the Planetarium
It was May of 1986 when I made my second visit to the park. I was a junior in High School and in the good old marching band, which just happened to be competing in Orlando that year (yes, I really am that old – lol). Also note that the following pictures were taken with one of those Kodak disk cameras (who remember those?) so yeah…the quality isn’t great.
By this point in time AT&T had acquired Bell, so naturally at the very least, all signage had to change.
Sadly, so did a few other things as well. The fog on the lift hill was now gone. Instead you were surrounded by a giant starfield (I guess Disney wanted you to feel like you were going back in time or something).
I couldn’t wait to get to once again get to the top and see that lunar surface in all its glory! Remember that part about Disney changing things and conveniently NOT telling their guest about it? J Well, the lunar scene was now gone. What? In literally 3 years since my first visit, someone actually decided to make that kind of decision that fast?? Now granted once your eyes adjusted, you could still make out a number of the old props lurking in the darkness. But regardless…
Instead you just saw a projection of good old planet Earth along with some space satellite-looking thing.
On a positive note, the Apollo landing was replaced by a Space station scene that actually wrapped part of the way down the descent hill. As your car did the infamous 180-degree rotation backwards, you could see part of the actual space station itself over your head. I think it was some sort of capsule shaped thing. None the less, there was a little girl (obviously another animatronic) peeking out of the window and waving to you.
As you continued your descent, there were a series of video screens on both sides of the track which depicted Disney’s vision of future communication. Wasn’t the best way to end the ride, but certainly better than the complete darkness you were in just a few years before.
House Cleaning Continues
It is now 1994 and Spaceship Earth is undergoing it’s 3rd transformation, which is sad considering it’s not been much more than a decade since it opened. I didn’t visit again however until just a few years later in 1998.
The lift sequence was once again changed. Instead of ascending through some sort of starfield, the ceiling and walls were replaced with lights and laser beams. Better projection was installed for the “earth scene” at the top. I guess Disney felt this was proper compensation for what was now a COMPLETE removal of every last one of the space props.
You know how today, you enter into the dome through a dark tunnel, well in the late 90’s this is what you saw:
You passed through that giant square near the bottom. A much better effect than what is being used today.
The descent hill had also been changed. The video screens were gone and instead you had about 6 or 7 “show scenes”, all yet again depicting the future of communication. For those that remember the days of Horizons, that was exactly what each of these animatronic scenes reminded me of.
At the end, was a huge (and I mean huge) mockup of Walt’s original vision of EPCOT. Now THAT was something to be seen!
A New Century
And now, here we are. It was 2007 when the contract with AT&T expired and they chose not to renew. This of course left the door wide open for Siemens to take over, and man what a “gut job” those people did.
All space-related props from the top were immediately removed. So no matter how hard you try with your handy-dandy smartphone of choice, no flash, no camera angle, no Ouija board, no anything is going to make any remnant of what used to be there magically re-appear. Despite what trickery your eyes may play on you while in that complete and utter darkness.
I can only hope – and pray to every Disney god out there – that someone somewhere takes advantage of the Siemens pull-out, and brings 180top back into all of its glory. Because there truly are no words to describe what it was like back then. Spaceship Earth really was an attraction!