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Credit: Becky Burkett

The ‘Beacon of Magic’ is still the Beacon of EPCOT, and more amazing than you ever dreamed

October 1.

Joe Fowler on the land where Disney World would be built, 1969.

The date has been a significant one in the Disney Parks timeline since Imagineering broke ground in the central Florida swampland in an effort toward a really hefty dream, simply called “The Florida Project” by those in Walt’s most inner circle.

Credit: Florida State Archives

Walt would be gone nearly 5 years before the opening of Walt Disney World on October 1, 1971, but the day was cause for unimaginable celebration nonetheless.

And unless you’ve been living on Venus or under a rock for the past two years, you know that the momentous date is on deck to be celebrated again. Only this time, it’s a worldwide celebration as Disney Parks have expanded all across the globe, and hey, when your sister park has a birthday–especially her 50th–you party!

Photo Credit: Disney

But amid all the hustle and bustle and muss and fuss and scurrying and worrying surrounding all that goes into dressing up a massive park for a massive celebration, something might just have been overlooked.

You’ll remember that on October 1, 1971, only Magic Kingdom was opening. The three subsequent parks hadn’t yet had their swamp sludge removed. But October 1 is the “birthday” of one of the subsequent parks of “The Florida Project,” one which Walt had dreamed up, mused about, lost sleep over, and scribbled out time and time again.

And after the beauty that was unveiled to fans today by Imagineer Zach Riddley, well, part of its story just needed to be told.

Or at least the story of an iconic hallmark attraction of that park–the giant, geodesic wonder that is Spaceship Earth. (Seriously, have you ever seen something so beautiful at a theme park?)

You see, EPCOT’s birthday is also October 1. But Disney World’s second part wouldn’t be born until Magic Kingdom was already 11 years old. On October 1, 1982, Disney World welcomed Guests to EPCOT Center: the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

There was much at which to marvel, but none so marvelous as the astonishing, awe-inspiring, impossible engineering feat called Spaceship Earth. If you’re one that rushes past this phenomenal feat of balance, engineering, and seamless design (or if you forgo EPCOT altogether, aka “worstparkers”), it’s got to be because you just do not know about the amazing effort, time and sheer genius that went into erecting the structure, not to mention keeping it upright, in one place and above the ground.

Spaceship Earth’s structure is an engineering marvel.

To the untrained or distracted eye, Spaceship Earth appears to be held up the six legs beneath it, but from an engineering standpoint, that would be impossible as the legs would buckle under the load.

Instead, the six legs were driven into pile groups more than 150 feet underground, and hexagonal trusses were built atop the legs. This created a platform. The trusses actually support the load of the behemoth sphere. The lower 1/4 of the sphere is suspended from the platform, and the upper 3/4 is supported by the platform.

Wow. Just wow.

Spaceship Earth by the Numbers

The enormous structure sits above the ground floor as Guests enter EPCOT–15 feet above the ground to be exact. It is 160 feet in diameter, and the highest point of the sphere is 182 feet high.

spaceship earth epcot

Credit: Becky Burkett
Disney Dining

Spaceship Earth is so big, that it took more than 1,700 tons of steel to construct it. The entire structure encompasses a whopping 2.2 million cubic feet of space, and its outer structure is punctuated by more than 11,000 perfect isosceles triangles.

Projections called for EPCOT to be built in 6 years, from breaking ground to completion, but the park was completed in half that time. Spaceship Earth itself was built in 26 months.

Lots of famous people have been involved in the development of Spaceship Earth.

Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, Fahrenheit 451). Bradbury first met Walt Disney on a street in Beverly Hills, California; he was going for a walk and ended up with plans to have lunch with Disney a week later.

They became good friends over time, and the Walt Disney Company brought Bradbury on to contribute to the development of EPCOT. They knew that Walt and Bradbury had a mutual respect for each other’s work.

Bradbury was instrumental in designing the structure we know today as Spaceship Earth, and he was partially responsible for the script that is narrated during the attraction as well.

Over the years, the attraction’s script has been narrated by different celebrities, including Walter Cronkite, Jeremy Irons, and more recently, Dame Judi Dench.

Spaceship Earth: The record-smashing beast

As long as we’re bragging about Spaceship Earth, I need to tell you that it sets the record for largest free-standing sphere on the face of the planet.

And after the glimpse we got today of Spaceship Earth lit up as a Beacon of Magic, it could quite easily hold the record for most artisitcally, beautifully-designed showpiece to also double as a geodesic dome.

It’s breathtaking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Becky Burkett

I'm a Lone Star State native whose idea of joy includes any combination of the following: cold weather, "I Love Lucy," "The Andy Griffith Show," journals full of blank paper, "Toy Story," "Sleeping Beauty," my 2 boys, my 2 girls, my 4 shih tsus, Disney Parks history and being at Disney World. I love to write about Disney Parks, Disney history, all things Imagineering and PIXAR. I adore the colors, story and art direction of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" (Team Make it Blue!), and "Toy Story" is life (minus "Toy Story 4"). I believe Walt Disney was so much more than an entertainment and theme park tycoon; I believe he was a savant with a vision for life and how it could be if happiness and kindness are strived for. I love Biergarten at EPCOT and 1900 Park Fare at Disney's Grand Floridian. You can find me croonin' with the birds at the Enchanted Tiki Room, scoring the 999,999 at Buzz's Space Ranger Spin, or trying for the highest score in the toybox at Toy Story Mania! Hey, if you dream it, you really can do it!