The icon of EPCOT is without a doubt Spaceship Earth, a massive structure and attraction of the same name found just inside the Disney Park’s main entrance in the World Celebration neighborhood. Spaceship Earth is unforgettable, and there are plenty of wonderful details about its construction, history, and more that are often overlooked by Guests.
Spaceship Earth opened along with EPCOT on October 1, 1982, and debuted an impressive and historical form of architecture that Imagineers were inspired by. The shape of the structure is a geodesic sphere, which was introduced by Buckminster Fuller, who coincidentally also popularized the term “spaceship Earth” in his 1968 novel Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.
Ray Bradbury — the writer well-known for the novel Fahrenheit 451 — was originally brought on by Imagineers to help design and conceptualize Spaceship Earth, and his long-standing admiration of Buckminster Fuller helped to introduce both the shape and name of the attraction today. Bradbury also helped to write the original narration for Spaceship Earth, making him a truly integral part of the attraction’s history.
The idea of a geodesic sphere was able to become a reality when Imagineers looked at the structure as two pieces, one that makes up the lower fourth of the sphere that hangs beneath where the support beams meet the building, and on that is the upper two thirds. By distributing the weight this way and driving each support nearly one hundred and sixty feet into the ground, they were able to successfully create this futuristic shape while maintaining safety for the attraction and Guests inside.
The exterior of Spaceship Earth is covered in 11,324 tetrahedrons — triangular pyramids — that come together to form the iconic silver triangular shapes that Guests know and love. The tetrahedrons are made of alucobond which is durable and lightweight, and they come together to form a structure that is one hundred and eighty feet tall and one hundred and sixty-five feet wide.
The issue of rainfall also came up while designing Spaceship Earth thanks to the frequent heavy storms that are common in Central Florida, and a clever drainage system was put to use. Small gaps between each of the tetrahedron panels collect rainwater and funnel it underground to World Showcase Lagoon, avoiding large amounts of water running down the sides of Spaceship Earth and soaking Guests.
The Outside Details
Spaceship Earth is actually comprised of two separate spheres, one that acts as the outer shell and a second that encases the attraction itself. Once inside the structure, Guests ascend through the various scenes on the outer edges of the structure in a spiral motion towards the very top of Spaceship Earth. The final descent is then a sharper and steeper spiral track that comes through the very center of the attraction, bringing Guests back to the base.
While it looks as though there is no break in the exterior of Spaceship Earth for utility doors or other access points, sharp-eyed Guests can actually spot one such opening. When in the scene depicting space and planet Earth projected above, Guests should look through the darkness for a stairway and large platform that leads to the very top of the structure, where there is a small access door that has been used for photo opportunities in the past.
Since 1982, Spaceship Earth has seen its fair share of changes with several refurbishments and upgrades, each bringing a new narrator to the experience. When it first debuted, Spaceship Earth was narrated by Vic Perron, Walter Cronkite then stepped in from 1986 through 1994, Jeremy Irons from 1994 through 2007, and Dame Judi Dench in the current version that has been pleasing Guests since its debut in 2008.
The 2008 reopening is also when the interactive futuristic quiz and cartoon vignette at the end of the attraction was introduced, paying homage to the former ending of Horizons attraction, where Guests could choose one of three locations to travel to. This refurbishment also brought the current iconic score of Spaceship Earth that was composed by legendary musician Bruce Broughton.
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Since its conception, Spaceship Earth has always been focused on telling the story of how mankind has utilized communication to connect and progress since the beginning of time. Each refurbishment has kept that theme intact, with necessary upgrades, such as adding in the invention of the personal computer, added along the way to keep things fresh and relevant.
Fun Ride Details
There are countless small details and historical nods throughout Spaceship Earth that help to bring the experience to life, and one interesting fact was more of a practical solution that Imagineers created. Since the attraction called for the creation of so many audio-animatronics, many preexisting forms (mainly from the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom) were repurposed with new wardrobes and makeup, so Guests can spot some familiar faces along the way. Guests should be on the lookout for Teddy Roosevelt as a Roman, Dwight Eisenhower as a Renaissance musician, James Buchanan as Gutenberg, John Adams as a monk, and many more.
Guests can also spot several Hidden Mickeys while enjoying a ride on Spaceship Earth, several of which are in the Renaissance scene. When passing by a duo of monks on the left-hand side, Guests can spot a classic Hidden Mickey formed by an ink stain near the sleeping monk. Another classic Hidden Mickey can be spotted next to the sculptor on the left-hand side, created by three concentric paint rings.
Spaceship Earth is not only an architectural marvel but also an impressive example of how an attraction can be both educational and entertaining. Every Guest who enjoys walking past the structure as well as experiencing the ride should definitely stop and appreciate the amazing history and details that went into its creation, resulting in the beauty they can see today!