Spaceship Earth is the iconic and symbolic structure of Epcot, a theme park that is part of the Walt Disney World Resort. One of the most recognizable structures at the Walt Disney World Resort, it is not only the centerpiece and main focal point of Epcot, but also the name of the attraction housed within the 18-story geodesic sphere that takes guests on a time machine themed experience using the Omnimover system. The 13-minute dark ride shows guests how advancements in human communication has helped create the future one step at a time. The attraction involves a timeline from the origins of prehistoric man to the dawn of the 21st century, where guests can then create a future for themselves.
The structure was designed with the help of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who also helped write the original storyline for the attraction. Both the structure and the attraction's name were inspired by the work of Buckminster Fuller. However, he was not given credit.
The structure is similar in texture to the United States pavilion from Expo 67 in Montreal, giving a misconception that it is a geodesic dome. By definition, a dome can only be part of a sphere. Spaceship Earth is a complete sphere, supported on legs.
Geometrically, Spaceship Earth is a pentakis dodecahedron, with each of the 60 isosceles triangle faces divided into 16 smaller equilateral triangles (with a bit of fudging to make it rounder). Each of those 960 flat panels is sub-divided into four triangles, each of which is divided into three isosceles triangles to form each point. In theory, there are 11,520 total isosceles triangles forming 3840 points. In reality, some of those triangles are partially or fully nonexistent due to supports and doors; there are actually only 11,324 of them, with 954 partial or full flat panels.
The cladding was designed so that when it rains, no water pours off the sides onto the ground. (All water is "absorbed" through one inch gaps in the facets and is collected in a gutter system - and finally channeled into the World Showcase Lagoon.)
Construction took 26 months and 40,800 labor hours to build. The interior steel structure consists of a massive "table" formed by deep trusses and 6 legs, none of which are directly under the sphere. This was done to give the illusion of the ball floating in air. Extending upwards from the table are "quadropod" structures which support the smaller beams which form the actual shell of the steel skeleton. Pipes stand the aluminum skin panels away from the skeleton and provide space for utilities. A small service car is parked at the top of the steel structure and can carry a prone technician down the sides to access repair locations. The shop fabrication of the steel (done in nearby Tampa, Florida) was an early instance of computer aided drafting and materials processing.
Spaceship Earth was sponsored by the Bell System originally, from 1982 until 1984. Bell was broken up into smaller companies in 1984, and its parent company, AT&T became its own independent company. AT&T would sponsor Spaceship Earth from 1984 until 2004.
In October of 1982, the attraction experience began as the ride vehicles moved up into the structure through a lighted tunnel enhanced by a fog machine, and then ascended on a spiraling track up through dark spaces featuring a series of lighted historic vignettes. The attraction featured actor Vic Perrin as the narrator along with a very simple and quiet orchestral composition throughout the attraction.
A list of the scenes is below. The theme of communication through the ages was developed in chronological order in theatrical settings peopled with Audio-Animatronics figures. Actors were seen (and heard quietly) declaiming in a Greek theater. Charioteers carried messages from a Roman court, and Jewish and Islamic scholars discussed texts. With typical Disney whimsy, a monk was seen fallen asleep on a manuscript he was inscribing. Michelangelo, overhead, painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, and Gutenberg manned his printing press.
Suggesting the rush of 20th-century technology, subsequent scenes melded together, overlapping each other as the circumference of the ride track narrowed. A newsboy hawked papers, a movie marquee and film clips represented the motion pictures, radio and television were represented. As the vehicles reached the large space at the apex of the ride system, guests saw, on the planetarium ceiling of the sphere, projections of stars, planets, the Milky Way, and, closest and largest, "spaceship earth." The Omnimover vehicles then revolved 180 degrees, so that that the passengers were lying backward facing the "sky" as they began their descent, on a relatively straight track. The attraction ended with guests hearing scientific audio from around the world, and seeing on a series of screens, projected scenes of computer graphics, scientific data, a space shuttle launch, among others. The ride stops intermittently as wheelchairs are loaded or unloaded.
In May of 1986, the attraction was given a slight remodel. This second version of the attraction started off with the lightened tunnel enhanced by twinkling lights, meant to depict stars, with the fog machine removed. Famous news journalist Walter Cronkite was the new narrator, reading from an updated script. A theme song called Tomorrow's Child was composed for the ending of the attraction, which was redesigned with projected images of children on screens to help fit with the theme of "Tomorrow's Child".
In August of 1994, the attraction was given a major remodel. This third version of the attraction kept the lightened tunnel as it was in 1986, and maintaining the majority of the scenes depicted in the beginning and middle of the attraction. Three scenes toward the end of the attraction that showed a computer in a boy's bedroom of the 1980s, a woman's office of the 1980s, and a network operations center of the 1990s, were all removed and replaced with one scene depicting a boy and girl using the internet from America to Asia via instant communication. Actor Jeremy Irons was the new narrator, reading from an updated script. A new orchestral composition was composed for the beginning, middle, and end of the attraction. The ending itself was completely redone, with the removal of the Space Station scene located in the attraction's planetarium, replacement of an old projected image of Earth in the planetarium with a new image, and replacement of the 1982 and 1986 ending scenes of the ride them with miniature architectural settings connected by color-changing fiber optic cables and arrays of blinking lights representing electronic Communication pathways. The attraction re-opened in its third version on November 23, 1994.
On July 9, 2007, the attraction was again closed for another remodel that included a number of updates to the attraction. The attraction opened again with its fourth version in February 2008, with a new score composed by Bruce Broughton and new narration provided by Dame Judi Dench. The attraction's exterior was also modified for the 2007 renovations.
The original post show for Spaceship Earth was called Earth Station. It lasted from 1982 until 1994. It was a wide open exhibit space that included:
- EPCOT Center Guest Relations
- Seven large rear projector screens mounted on the walls of the exhibit space toward the ceiling that displayed visual previews of various EPCOT Center attractions.
- WorldKey Information: Interactive kiosks that offered previews of various EPCOT Center attractions. Guests could also talk to a live cast member via two way closed circuit video, or make a restaurant reservation while in the park.
When AT&T renewed their sponsorship in 1994, they redesigned the exhibit space for Earth Station into the Global Neighborhood. The original Global Neighborhood lasted from 1994 until 1999. In 1999, the exhibit space was updated to become the New Global Neighborhood for the Millennium Celebration. The exhibit space closed in 2004 after AT&T left as sponsor.
AT&T's departure as sponsor in 2004 caused the exhibit to close. Siemens AG, the new sponsor of Spaceship Earth, having signed on in 2005, created a new exhibit space called Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future. The new exhibit space once again uses the entire exhibit space that only Earth Station had once used. The new exhibit space houses interactive exhibits featuring various Siemens AG technology. These interactive displays and games allow guests to see the future of medicine, transportation and energy management. The space opened with two games, with two new games added in December 2007 and January 2008.
Project Tomorrow current attractions are:
- An illuminated globe featuring an ever-changing collage of inspirational images of tomorrow.
- Body Builder, a 3-D game allowing guests to build a digital human body.
- Super Driver, a driving simulation video game featuring vehicle accident and avoidance systems. It simulates what is supposed to be the future of driving. You drive a "smart-car" (that has a British accent,) and try to stop the city from being destroyed.
- Power City, a large digital "shuffleboard-style" game that has guest racing around the board to power their city.
- InnerVision, a coordination and reaction-time game with elements similar to Simon and Dance Dance Revolution.
A VIP lounge exists on the second floor at the back of the building that houses the post show for Spaceship Earth. It is a place for employees and customers of the current sponsoring company to relax while visiting the park. When Spaceship Earth was without sponsorship from 2004–2005, the room was utilized for private events such as weddings and conventions. The layout is small and curved in shape, with one wall consisting of large windows where visitors can look out onto the park.
When Siemens AG took over as sponsors, the lounge was given the name "Base21".
In celebration of the year 2000, a large 25-story "magic wand" held by a representation of Mickey Mouse's hand was built next to the sphere. Inspiration for it came from the Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence of Fantasia (although, oddly enough, Mickey did not use a magic wand in that sequence). At the top of the structure was a large cut out of the number 2000. While the structure wasn't technically meant to be permanent, it is unclear as to how long the structure was to be used. After the Millennium Celebration ended, the structure was left standing. In 2001, the number 2000 was replaced with the word "Epcot" in a script font which differs from the park's logotype. On the morning of July 5, 2007, it was officially announced by Epcot Vice President Jim MacPhee that Spaceship Earth would be restored to its original appearance and that the "magic wand" structure would be removed in time for the park's 25th anniversary on October 1, 2007.
On Monday, July 9, the attraction itself was closed for refurbishment, and the surrounding area was walled off. As of October 1st, the entire wand structure, the stars, and the star supports have been removed. In addition, palm trees and other plants that originally stood where the wand was prior to 2000 have been added to the landscape of Spaceship Earth.
With the new Siemens AG sponsorship, changes have been made to the ride and post show area. The ride's updates include new scenes, modifications to existing scenes; some new costumes, lighting, and props; a new musical score by Bruce Broughton, new narration by Judi Dench; and a new interactive ending featuring a touch screen. New scenes show a Greek classroom, mainframe computers and the creation of the personal computer.
The "time machine" vehicles now have an interactive screen where riders can choose their vision of the future. This resembles a similar idea on the now-defunct attraction Horizons At the beginning of the ride, a camera takes riders' pictures (using facial recognition technology) which are used at the end of the ride to conduct an interactive experience about the future of technology, featuring the riders' faces on animated characters. Visitors are now also asked where in our Spaceship Earth they live, this is used in the post-show area where a map of the world is displayed with the riders' faces on where they live.
The renovations were scheduled to be completed for a February 2008 reopening, but the attraction opened for "soft launch" previews starting in December 2007. On February 15th, 2008, the ride reopened officially after closing periodically in January for last-minute adjustments.
The ride begins with the Omnimover vehicles ascending into a dark tunnel. A series of twinkling stars surround guests. Soon, guest's pictures are taken on a face-recognition program that is to be featured in the attraction's post-show. Guests then re-enter the starfield. Guests then see prehistoric man fighting for survival, later on Cavemen are depicted, who developed the first spoken languages. Then guests see the Egyptians, who invented a system of hieroglyphs and made papyrus on which to record them; Phoenician merchants, who developed a written alphabet (the Phoenician alphabet); Ancient Greece, where the theater was a popular form of entertainment; and Ancient Rome, whose leaders built a vast system of roads all over Europe.
After the sacking of Rome by invaders, guests see scenes of the Middle Ages, when Jewish and Islamic scholars continued to progress in science, and when monks copied Bibles by hand. The attraction then moves on to the European Renaissance, the development of the movable-type printing press, and the 20th century communications revolution—newspapers, telegraphs, radio, telephones, movies, television, as well as the computer.
The remainder of the ride is involved in seeing a depiction of Earth from space, traveling through an infinite amount of stars and into a realm of glowing triangles where guests can then use the touch-screens in their Omnimover vehicle to create a possible depiction of their future.
The present day 2007/4th Version of Spaceship Earth:
- Face-Recognition Program
- Prehistoric Man
- Egyptian Temple
- Phoenician Merchants
- Greek Math Teacher
- The Roman Road Network
- Islamic Empire
- Cathedral Abbey
- Gutenberg Press
- Renaissance Italy
- Industrial Revolution
- The Age of Invention
- The Age of Information
- Tunnel of Facts and Figures
- Spaceship Earth Planetarium
- Infinite Stars
- Descent Tunnel featuring Glowing Triangles and touch-screens within the Omnimover vehicles that allow guests to create their future.
October 1, 1982
- Spaceship Earth opens with the opening of EPCOT Center.
- Sponsored by the Bell System.
- The narrator is uncredited but is believed to be Vic Perrin.
May 26, 1986
- Attraction reopens from first major renovation
- AT&T is now the sponsor, having signed on in 1984.
- Narrator changes to Walter Cronkite.
- Finale music changed to Tomorrow's Child.
August 15, 1994
- Closes for second major renovation.
- "Home computer", "Office Computer", "Network Operations Center", and "Space Station" scenes removed.
- New final scenes installed and replace old final scenes.
- Earth Station closes.
- Tomorrow's Child ending removed.
November 23, 1994
- Attraction reopens.
- New ride narration by Jeremy Irons.
- New ride score by Edo Guidotti.
- The Global Neighborhood replaces Earth Station.
September 29, 1999
- The Mickey Mouse arm holding a wand is dedicated with "2000" over Spaceship Earth.
November 24, 1999
- The Global Neighborhood is replaced with The New Global Neighborhood, a new exhibit space serving as a hands-on playground for Spaceship Earth's post show.
- The Mickey Mouse arm holding a wand is changed to say "Epcot" over Spaceship Earth.
January 1, 2003
- AT&T sponsorship ends.
- The New Global Neighborhood is removed and the area is boarded up. AT&T references removed.
- It is announced that Siemens AG will sponsor Spaceship Earth for twelve years.
April 11, 2007
- Major changes coming to Spaceship Earth are announced.
April 25, 2007
- The new exhibit space in Spaceship Earth's post show called Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future opens.
July 5, 2007
- Epcot Vice President Jim Macphee announces the removal of the wand structure in time for the park's 25th anniversary on October 1st 2007.
July 9, 2007
- Closes for a fourth renovation.
- Removal of the wand structure begins.
August 24, 2007
- Removal of the wand structure completed.
- Guest previews of fourth edition begin.
February 15, 2008
- Fourth edition opens to the general public after renovations.
- New narration by Dame Judi Dench.
March 4, 2008
- Spaceship Earth is Rededicated