Mission: Space

(Photos by Sebastien Barthe)

Motion simulator thrill ride, it simulates what an astronaut might experience aboard a spacecraft on a mission to Mars, from the higher g-force of blastoff to the speculative hypersleep.

The attraction opened to the public in a "soft opening" mode in June 2003, and celebrated its grand opening on October 9 with a ceremony attended by Disney CEO Michael Eisner, HP CEO Carly Fiorina and NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, as well as several NASA astronauts from its many phases of human space exploration (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the space shuttle program and two crew members aboard the International Space Station).

Initially it was sponsored by Compaq, which began working with Disney Imagineers on the design in April 2000. Hewlett-Packard assumed the sponsorship upon its merger with Compaq in 2002. The simulator hardware used in Mission: SPACE was designed and built by Environmental Tectonics Corporation of Pennsylvania.

Mission: SPACE was built on the former site of Horizons, a dark ride that offered optimistic visions of what life might be like in the future. Horizons closed permanently in 1999 after a few years of sporadic operation; construction began on Mission: SPACE shortly thereafter. Industry estimates put the cost of developing the new attraction at US$100 million.

Mission: SPACE is meant to simulate astronaut training for the first human mission to Mars aboard the fictional X-2 Deep Space Shuttle in 2036, the seventy-fifth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space. (The year 2036 can be deduced from plaques in the attraction's queue celebrating 75 years of human spaceflight, including two faux milestones in the future.) Riders are "trainees" at the fictional International Space Training Center (ISTC), where they are arranged into crews of four before watching an introductory video featuring actor Gary Sinise.

Before boarding the simulators, each rider is assigned an on-board role (navigator, pilot, commander or engineer) and given two tasks to perform during the mission (pressing a specific button when told). For example, one of the commander's buttons initiates the rocket's first-stage separation, and the other activates manual flight control. The spacecraft's on-board self-automated pilot will perform each task if the rider does not respond to his or her prompt from Mission Control or if there is no one to perform the task. Also featured are various labeled buttons and switches which the rider may play with but do nothing; they are only there to add to the realism aspect of the ride.

The mission includes liftoff from the ISTC, a slingshot around the moon for a gravity-assisted boost, a brief period of simulated hypersleep (to pass the lengthy time required to reach Mars) and a descent for landing on the Martian surface. As a training exercise, the mission contains several unexpected situations that add to the drama.

The futuristic X-2 vehicle is a three-stage rocket which is said to use several technologies in development today, including aerospike engines, solid hydrogen fuel, an aerobrake and carbon nanotubes.

The attraction queue contains several items and commemorative plaques from past, present and fictional future space missions. Among the items on display are props from the 2000 film Mission to Mars, including the rotating "gravity wheel" from the predecessor X-1 spacecraft, a model of which hangs from the ceiling, and a NASA moon rover from the Apollo program on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

Upon conclusion of the training exercise, guests are invited to participate in activities at the Advanced Training Lab, a post-show area containing a group game called Mission: SPACE Race in which players perform tasks as Mission Control technicians aiding two X-2 spacecraft racing to return to Earth; a space-themed play area for toddlers; a single-person, arcade-style game in which an astronaut explores Mars on foot; and a kiosk where brief video postcards can be created and sent via e-mail.

The attraction is a multiple-arm centrifuge that achieves the illusion of speed by spinning and tilting sealed capsules during the four-minute "mission." Fans blow air gently at riders to help avoid motion sickness, and a magnified display in front of each rider simulates a window to space with high-resolution computer-generated imagery. Mission: SPACE comprises four separate centrifuges, each with 10 capsules holding four riders.

The attraction exposes riders to forces up to 2.4G, more than twice the force of gravity at the earth's surface (effectively multiplying a rider's weight by 2.4). A few months after the ride's opening, motion sickness bags were added within easy reach of riders.

- Grand Opening: October 9, 2003
- Theme Design: Walt Disney Imagineering
- Design and Manufacturing: Environmental Tectonics Corporation
- Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard
- Show Length: 5:38
- Height Requirement: 44"
- G-Force: 2.4g (sustained)
- Ride System: Interactive centrifuge
- Number of Centrifuges: 4
- Centrifuge theme: Spacecraft cockpit
- Capsules per Centrifuge: 10
- Riders per Capsule: 4
- Capacity: 1,600 riders per hour
- Previous attraction: Horizons

(*The ride originally featured a single rider queue, but that has since been replaced by the green team standby line.)

- The Horizons logo, in homage to the attraction replaced by Mission: SPACE, is on display at the center of the rotating "gravity wheel" in the queue. The Horizons logo can also be found on the front of the cash register counter in the gift shop on your way out of the attraction. Also the planter at the front of the building is in the former shape of Horizons.
- The attraction is capable of a throughput of over 1,600 riders per hour if all forty capsules are running correctly.
- Environmental Tectonics Corporation, the manufacturer of the centrifuges, also provided the pitch and roll simulators for Cyberspace Mountain in DisneyQuest.
- Mr. Johnson, the host of Mission to Mars, an older, now defunct Disney attraction, is referenced in the pre-ride video.

Each Future World pavilion was initially sponsored by a corporation who helped fund its construction and maintenance in return for the corporation's logos appearing prominently throughout the pavilion. For example, Universe of Energy was sponsored by Exxon, and The Land was sponsored by Kraft, then Nestlé. Each pavilion contains a posh "VIP area" for its sponsor with offices, lounges, and reception areas hidden away from regular park guests. In the years since the park's opening, however, some sponsors have decided that the branding wasn't worth the cost of sponsorship and have pulled out, leaving some of the pavilions without sponsors. Disney prefers to have sponsors helping to pay the bills, so pavilions without sponsors have an uncertain future. After General Electric left Horizons in 1993, it closed for a couple of years, then re-opened temporarily while neighboring attractions were renovated. Horizons closed permanently in January 1999 and was demolished in the summer of 2000 to make room for the opening of Mission: SPACE in 2003. MetLife abandoned Wonders of Life in 2001 and that area is closed. Test Track is sponsored by General Motors, Imagination! is sponsored by Eastman Kodak, and Mission: SPACE is sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. Spaceship Earth was sponsored by Bell System from 1982 to 1984, then AT&T (Bell System's parent company, following the Bell System Divestiture) from 1984 until 2003. It was not sponsored between 2003 and 2005. It is now sponsored by Siemens.