Space Mountain

BACKSTORY (May 27, 1977–Present): Title is from the “mountains” at Disney theme parks. Guests enter a Space Station and board/exit at a Space Port. The enclosed design allows controlled lighting to selectively hide portions of the track, increasing the guests’ surprise, which compensates for the absence of some of the track elements typically required to make outdoor coasters exciting. The building has the distinctive feature of having the roof supports on the outside, allowing the ceiling inside to provide a flat surface for projecting stars & other elements onto it. After Orlando’s success, Imagineers planned this one. Walt’s original “Space Port” plan opened more than ten years after the original plans. In the Disneyland Line internal newsletter from April 15, 1976:

Construction crews are presently working on the Space Mountain West Facility. This new structure will share one common wall with the Monsanto Attraction, however the outer masonry wall will rise much higher above the present Monsanto/Character Shop building...

A relatively new concept of a concrete pump is being used with excellent results at the construction site. The concrete is mixed in a standard mixing truck and then pumped through a hose for better efficiency in placement of concrete foundation...

In the complete Attraction, a spiral walkway down to the Spaceport will take guests from the initial crowd control queues to the load area...

Unlike WDW there’s only one track, side by side seating in the rockets, and a faster, smoother, more thrilling ride. Opening Day festivities were attended by the original U.S. Mercury Astronauts (America’s first men in space). The on board audio was added in 1996 after the success of the system at Disneyland Paris. Track fatigue from the heavier weight of the on-board audio systems and improperly manufactured steel track was one of the reasons for the 2 year refurbishment (April 9, 2003—July 15, 2005).

V1 (1977-2003) Riders were brought to a control tower where they listened to a recorded warning. The rockets turned sharply to the right and climbed into a long tunnel with fiber optic like projections of comets flying by on the walls. After another quick turn the rockets climbed up the longest lift filled with a red rotating spot light shining down the entire length of the lift tunnel, creating an effect as though the rockets were being pulled up by this red rotating light. At the top the rockets made a 200 degree left turn and passed a red-orange glowing geodesic sphere. There was a slight calm before the rockets climbed a short final lift to the top of the ride’s dome. After the 1996 refab, the audio began here. Slowly, the rocket sleds dove and the music changed to a hard-rocking Dick Dale surf guitar rendition of “Le Carnival Des Animaux: Aquarium” (The Carnival of the Animals ) by Camille Saint-Saëns. Riders were thrown about in almost complete darkness, faint lighting hinting at the dense metal scaffolding that seemed to fly within feet over the heads of the riders as the ride increased speed with each turn and built up to a dramatic climax. The ride ended as the rockets suddenly tunred left into a rotating tunnel with red-orange lighting effects to simulate re-entry. The music changed to a less foreboding variation of the original theme as the rocket sleds re-entered the station.

V2 (July 2005-present): New rocket sleds, queue, music by Michael Giacchino, special effects, and storyline. The completely rebuilt track is the same layout as the 1976 original designed by Imagineer Bill Watkins. The original track was removed and the foundation was laid 30' deeper, making the ride safer. The rockets no longer glow in the dark. The attraction begins in Space Station 77 (reference to opening year) where riders board their rocket and are sent into a series of tunnels and lifts themed to get your rocket sleds energized and sent to the proper launch coordinates. The first lift and room is lit with red and orange lighting. At the top of the lift, as you enter a long tunnel, riders experience electrical sounds & light effects presumably beginning to transfer energy to your rocket sled’s power cells.

Inside the tunnel is a series of blue strobe lights flashing around the riders. The electrical sounds and flashing blue strobe lights transfer the “energy” your rocket sled needs for the journey through space. The rocket sled then takes guests into the longest lift, surrounded by video screens. This is where the rocket sleds get their launch coordinates. On the screens red bars extend over the stars and stretch by the riders and begin to spin, making it seem as if the rocket sleds are rotating. Here the rocket sleds are once again being pulled up the by a tractor beam (this time the effect is digital). Riders see a spiral galaxy directly ahead and when the rocket enters the mountain, the galaxy swirls up and disappears.

The rocket sleds ascend up one final lift hill and then descend into two minutes of sharp turns and dips. The re-entry tunnel was formerly orange lights spiraling around riders, but now the rocket sleds appear to zoom by stars. The effect’s highlight is when the stars suddenly start zooming forward, implying that the rocket sleds have stopped and the stars are traveling in their normal fashion. At this point, the souvenir picture is taken, and then the riders return safely to Space Station 77. Rockin' Space Mountain: This nighttime version featured new music & different special effects. Originally called Rock-it Mountain, it premiered for Grad Nite 2006 with a track by Hoobastank. A new version premiered during the “Year of a Million Dreams” Celebration and was promoted alongside Rockin’ California Screamin, a similar modification to DCA's California Screamin’ roller coaster (January 3–April 26, 2007). Contrary to the original plans, “Rockin’ Space Mountain” ran during all operating hours and did not use the Dick Dale soundtrack. On December 28, 2006, Disneyland announced that the music for “Rockin’ Both Parks” was by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Space Mountain had “Higher Ground” and Rockin’ California Screamin’ used a remixed version of “Around the World.” Differences included new projections within the mountain and many lights alongside the track. Riders began with “Uncle” Joe Benson, a radio DJ from the Disney-owned 95.5 KLOS, introducing riders to the “Space Stage” where the Red Hot Chili Peppers would be “broadblasting live.” The “rocket rockers” continued the flight with a “sound check” with guitar riffs accompanied by projections of bright colors and sound waves. Climbing the last lift, the soundtrack transitioned into the song, “Higher Ground.” Colored lights lined the tracks strobing in sequence and projecting on walls and surroundings. Re-entry and the station were mostly the same except for some added instruments floating in space with the astronaut in the “planet orbit” screen. The neon lights that flash when a rocket train was launched to the right remained on. The queue also received new lighting fixtures.

On September 25, 2009, Ghost Galaxy debuted at Space Mountain; it was an outerspace-ghost themed overlay for the Halloween Season with scary projections and different music.



By Charlie Haas.

"Anyone can build a roller coaster on the ground in the sunlight." -A Disney publicist

I have seen the future and it's lots of fun: great scenery, scary stuff that works out okay in the end and a starring part for everyone.

The future I'm talking about is an entertainment called Space Mountain, which opened at Disneyland late in May and has been doing miracle-at Lourdes business ever since. Its capacity is about 2,000 people an hour; yet, at the end of the day, people who have been waiting for up to three hours to take the three-minute ride are still being turned away.

The idea for Space Mountain, a part-planetarium, part-movie set and part-fller coaster ride that simulates a space journey, came from Walt Disney himself back in the mid-sixties. It then took twelve years, a reported $29 million (some $3 million more than Disney spent to build the entire amusement park in 1955) and several refinements in computer technology to put the 118-foot-tall, 200-foot-wide multi-spired white mountain where Disney wanted it in Tomorrowland.

Space Mountain is perhaps the world's best amusement park ride. Not simply because of its speed (as fast as 32 miles per hour) or the number of twists and turns, but because its many devices are combined so effectively. At WED (Walter Elias Disney) Enterprises, the Glendale complex where rides for the Disney parks are designed and built, Space Mountain is referred to as a "packaged experience," a fulfillment of Disney's intention to take the spectator out of his theater seat and put him in the middle of a drama that he could believe not only aurally and visually, but viscerally. And this three-minute deployment of light, sound and motion is doing the trick for a sensation-jaded public. The people coming off Space Mountain do not look like they have been to a movie, a rock concert or a stage play. They look like they have been to outer space.

The mountain is at the center of a 96,460-square-fot complex that also contains a restaurant, an amphitheater and an electronic game "starcade." The architecture is reminiscent of everything you loved in Star Trek and Star Wars: a sort of mutant Danish modern, clean essential shapes rendered in stainless steel and coldly lit plastic. A sign at the entrance warns that Space Mountain is "a high speed, turbulent, roller-coaster type ride" and advises that those prone to dizziness and heart trouble should move on (the minimum age for the ride is three years). As people waiting in line enter the mountain and approach the boarding area, they pass a window through which they can see the ride in progress: luminous rocket-shaped cars, turned nearly sideways, sailing by very fast in the dark. A duplicate of the warning sign hangs beside the window, and an exit door is located nearby.

The "launch portal," where passengers board the rocket cars, is decorated with space tchotchkes, including an "intergalactic probe" hanging from the ceiling. Above the "Mission Status" readout board, a dispatcher watches the cars being loaded and reads the progress of the ride on a computer-operated control console.

The ride starts slowly, with the cars being lifted into the dark through a "meteor shower" of flying light blips, into a "solar energizer tunnel" of pulsing colors and around a suspended "geodesic satellite." Then the cars are surrendered to gravity and the computer-designed track for the ride down.

While most roller coasters begin their descents with one big plunge, the Space Mountain comes down to earth in a long series of whipping banked turns. By the middle of each high-speed turn, the car is sideways., so that you are thrown against the seat and the person next to you, gritting your teeth, digging your fingers into the safety bar; and each time you think they've run out of turns, they spring another two or three on you.

It is here that the lack of lighting is most effective. Between the deep darkness and the distracting, misleading dots of projected light, it is impossible to see where you are headed. The unanticipated dips and turns quickly give you a sensation of weightlessness--of gravity repeatedly dropping out from under you, of vertiginous free-fall.

The Space Mountain structural "envelope"--a roughly conical steel structure 200 feet across and 118 feet high--is supported by concrete pilings around its perimeter and 36 steel support beams which shape the roof. The lack of interior supports allows the entire interior surface to be used as a projection screen.

Platforms holding projectors sit at several different height levels throughout the building.

An on-site computer monitors the progress of each car, using magnetic sensors along the track and metal fins on the car bottoms. Each car occupies a "safety zone"; should one car encroach on another's zone, the computer notifies the dispatcher, who can apply remove-control brakes of any car at any point. The dispatcher's console includes tracking lights, four TV monitors showing various parts of the track, a fifth TV screen giving the computer's readout, P.A. system controls and headset for communication with the attendants who load passengers. Each car is weighted before the trip. An unusually heavy car can have its "blast-off" delayed to compensate for its higher speed in the descent stage.

The 3,500-foot track, designed with the help of a computer to ensure safe banking configurations, is made of hollow tubes filled with compressed air; any air leak, indicating a crack in the track, is pinpointed by the on-site computer, so that the track can be repaired. The computer can also sense decreased car performance, indicating a worn wheel or bearing. Space Mountain is equipped with back-up power and a back-up computer.

The actual motion of the cars is achieved in the same way as a conventional roller coaster. Electrically powered hoists lift the cars to the top; gravity drops them to the bottom. Moving light displays are driven by individual electric motors.

There are about fifteen staff people, all on the ground level, when the ride is in operation. In case of emergency, the upper portions of the track can be reached by elevators.

When the turns finally stop, you pass through a "re-entry" tunnel--very bright lights and a loud "sonic boom," a sort of birth slap after the long dark swim--and you're back in the "space port." People come out of the cars with frozen dopey smiles on their faces; it takes a few minutes of walking around before they look like they know where they are. Then, sometimes, they walk down the exit corridor applauding.

John Hench, WED's executive vice president and chief operating officer, has worked for the Disney organization since the early animation days in the thirties. Hench, who is balding and has a thin gray moustache, wears a shirt similar to those knit sportshirts with alligators on them, except his is cut a little better and has Mickey Mouse's head where the alligator would be. Herman Kahn's "The Next 200 Years" is at the top of his current reading stack.

I remark that Space Mountain seems to make good use of color psychology. "Oh yes," Hench answers, doodling a cross-hatched "G," "If you don't understand the psychology of color and the psychology of form, you simply don't get your point across. We had to learn to be literate with form and color, because in a six-minute cartoon, you've got a lot of ideas to get across in a very short time.

"Space Mountain is a packaged experience. Toffler talks about this...but he didn't seem to understand that that's what Walt had been trying to do at Disneyland: to package an experience, design an experience to put people in the scene. The Space Mountain experience says something about space--not necessarily a factual thing, but a theatrical thing."

And the end result? "Oh, it's reassurance." He pauses to approve his doodled "G," and begins another one. "Humans are very sensitive to questions of survival. In Space Mountain, there's a bit of a threat there, but we let you win. The next time you face a threat, you'll meet it with more confidence.

"This is the real essence of entertainment, I supposed. Space not an escape from reality; it's a reassurance...We feel lifted.:

The thrill ride as a Disney version of therapy? Possibly. Several million people will ride Space Mountain this year; each will pay a minimum general admission charge of $5.50, and 85 cents for the ride itself. And if the magnet is not a mass thirst for reassurance, it is perhaps a movie-fed fantasy of escape to deep space, or just good PR, word-of-mouth and curiosity. It doesn't matter: Like Mickey Mouse, Coca-Cola and every other product of commercial genius, Space Mountain just is.


Former cast member Ken S. has shared some great memories of Space Mountain. As he recalls:

There was a recent item in the OC History Roundup blog about Tomorrowland which registered a memory of mine from the days before Space Mountain was open to the public. By mid 1976, much of the Mountain’s track was complete inside the shell of the building. By then the building looked like a round circus Big Top without most of the exterior walls, especially those panels fronting the ‘employee side’ of the building. There was quite a bit of excitement among the cast members as we had all witnessed the attraction slowly taking shape, and now were hearing the sounds of a test sled vehicle occasionally making the rounds of the track. We weren't allowed to walk up to the building and peer inside as there was construction fencing keeping us at some distance. But we all clamored for a glimpse.

While I was working over in Adventureland, I had a chance meeting or two with some of the Disney supervisors overseeing and validating the vehicle testing. I must have impressed them enough that one day, I got a quiet invitation..almost a whisper...from a supervisor to meet up at the construction gate after my shift. Once there, I joined a very small number of other cast members who must have also received the same invitation. We were invited to take a ride on Space Mountain!

What we didn’t realize at the time was that few, if any others, had ridden the vehicle(s) to date; most of the vehicle trips were done empty or filled with sand bags to replicate the experience of real riders. We realized later we were chosen to be real-life ‘test dummies’.

Given hard hats, we walked into the building still under construction down to the load position. At that point, the hard hats were then left behind. I can’t recall the instructions we were given, but no doubt they were the ones that all guests receive, other than a discussion reminding us that if the ride shut down we should stay inside the vehicle, and to “remain seated at all times”. We were the only vehicle was on the track.
Once released, off we went up the chain drive, through the tunnel to the top of the ride. Now remember, there were no special effects and you could see outside the building, and the entire track complex. We were all primed for a good ride.

And a good ride it was. We were whipped and dropped and up and down and round and round we went at a very fast rate. The part where the bottom drops out for a momentary feeling of weightlessness would have pulled us out of the vehicle if it weren’t for the safety bar.

By the time we arrived back at the station, we were all full of adrenaline and, after catching our breath, wanted to go again, but were politely told no and given a ‘Thank you’ for volunteering. So provided our hard hats, we got out of the vehicle and with shaky legs walked from the building thinking this was the most fantastic experience we had experienced and couldn’t wait to do ride it again.

For a few days later, the test vehicle continued to run, but there were no riders which seemed odd. Speaking with one of the workers I learned there was a reason. Those of us who rode that day were in a vehicle that was running up to 10mph faster than considered safe…that if the emergency brakes were applied to stop the ride, we would have blown through it. They were now beginning modifications to the wheels and who knows what else to make the ride run slower. Obviously a solution was found, as Space Mountain was completed and opened.

There was a special ‘cast member only’ party one evening before it was opened to the public. I was excited to be there and was ready for the experience, but the experience wasn’t the same, the ride was definitely slower.

Thinking about it now, it's too bad there wasn’t a photo taken of us intrepid test riders coming back to the station as they do today. I wonder what the look was on our faces after we broke the ‘speed barrier.' It was probably much like the look of the supervisions and test personnel on the dock staring at us. I’m not sure it was a look of relief or the shock that we made it safely all the way down.


What's Gotten Onto The Mountain?

No, those aren't alien beings from another galaxy who have been scrambling around on top of our Space Mountain. Those are members of our own Disneyland Paint Department sprucing up the appearance of the 100,000 square feet that make up the peaks of the Mountain. The six-person crew applied two coats of Elastomeric Coating to the surface over a span of two weeks. The resulting finish will last at least five years. In the meantime, the Complex's sparkling spires will continue to attract visitors from this world and...who knows where else?