Space Mountain isn't the fastest ride around, but that hasn't stopped it from becoming one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World. Since its debut in 1975, the rollercoaster has attracted millions of visitors—and inspired counterparts in Disney Parks across the world. Read on to find out more about the classic ride.
1. THE SUCCESS OF THE MATTERHORN BOBSLEDS CONVINCED WALT DISNEY THAT THRILL RIDES COULD WORK AT THE PARK.
Disney wasn’t sure that fast rides had a place in his family-friendly park, but his mind was made up after the Matterhorn Bobsleds proved to be a huge success.
2. AFTER THE RIDE WAS CONCEPTUALIZED, DISNEY HAD TO WAIT 11 YEARS FOR TECHNOLOGY TO CATCH UP.
Disney Legend John Hench designed the attraction in the early '60s, more than a decade before the technology needed to make it come to life was readily available. And the technology that was available was too slow. In fact, it would take hours just to model the data for just one curve. When the machinery finally caught up, work on the roller coaster resumed, and the first Space Mountain debuted at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in 1975.
3. EARLY NAMES FOR THE RIDE INCLUDED "SPACE PORT" AND "SPACE VOYAGE."
By 1966, however, the roller coaster had been dubbed what would eventually become its iconic name: Space Mountain.
4. THE DISNEY WORLD AND DISNEYLAND RIDES ARE SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT IN HEIGHT.
Florida's mountain is more than 180 feet high and 300 feet in diameter. Because Disneyland is built on a much smaller scale than the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland’s Space Mountain would have towered over Main Street and ruined the illusion of scale had it been an exact replica. A precise copy also wouldn't have fit, as Magic Kingdom is a bigger space. As a result, the California Space Mountain is significantly smaller at 118 feet tall and 200 feet in diameter.
5. DISNEY HIRED ASTRONAUT GORDON COOPER AS A CREATIVE CONSULTANT.
When Disneyland started working on their version of the ride, they called in Mercury 9 and Gemini 5 astronaut Gordon Cooper as a creative consultant. “Space Mountain is about as close as you can safely get to actually being in space," he later claimed.
6. THE RIDE COST MORE TO BUILD THAN THE ENTIRE DISNEYLAND PARK.
By the time Disneyland officially opened on July 17, 1955, the final price tag was $17 million. Twenty years later, the construction of the Space Mountain complex cost $18 million, including an arcade and a permanent amphitheater.
7. SPACE MOUNTAIN WAS THE WORLD'S FIRST COMPUTER-CONTROLLED COASTER.
Imagineers used computers to create the path of each track, making the ride feel as much like flight as possible. The innovation wasn't limited to just the design phase—it also became the first roller coaster in history to be controlled by computer.
8. IT'S ONE OF THE SLOWEST THRILL RIDES AT THE MAGIC KINGDOM.
Though the darkness, the projections of the galaxy, and several sudden drops make the roller coaster seem like you're careening wildly through space, the rockets only reach a top speed of 28 miles per hour. By comparison, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad can get up to 30 miles per hour, and the Splash Mountain descent can reach 40. The only thrill ride that goes slower is the 25-mph Barnstormer, a coaster intended for smaller children.
9. THE RIDE ONCE ENDED WITH RCA'S "HOME OF FUTURE LIVING."
Disney convinced RCA to sponsor the ride by pitching them “Home of Future Living,” a post-show feature at the end of the ride that allowed guests to see themselves on RCA color televisions. Riders could also look out “spaceports” to catch a glimpse into outer space, where they would see RCA communications satellites at work.
10. THE GRAND OPENING INCLUDED FIREWORKS, ASTRONAUTS, AND A 2000-PIECE MARCHING BAND.
Space Mountain's grand debut at the Magic Kingdom was quite the affair, including NASA astronauts and Disney astronauts (Mickey and friends wearing spiffy new space suits), along with a 2000-piece marching band that the music director had just four hours to organize. When the ride launched at Disneyland two years later, U.S. Mercury Astronauts Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, Donald “Deke” Slayton and Betty Grissom (widow of Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom) were all there to experience space from Earth.
11. NEIL ARMSTRONG STEPPED IN TO RE-LAUNCH THE RIDE IN 2005.
In 2003, Disneyland closed Space Mountain for two years in order to rebuild it in time for the park's 50th anniversary celebration in 2005. When it reopened, Neil Armstrong himself was on hand for the unveiling.
12. WANT 10 MORE FEET OF RIDE? PICK THE "ALPHA" TRACK.
There are two tracks to choose on the Magic Kingdom ride: Alpha and Omega. For a slightly longer ride, opt for the Alpha track, which is 3196 feet long versus Omega's 3186 feet.
13. LOOK FOR A FEW EASTER EGGS THE NEXT TIME YOU WALK THROUGH THE QUEUE AND EXIT.
The next time you walk through the queue for the Disneyland attraction, look around for the “Space Station 77” symbol that pays homage to the year Space Mountain first took flight there. And at the Magic Kingdom, space travelers are welcomed to Starport Seven-Five, a nod to the ride’s debut year in Florida. When exiting the ride, there's a blue panel at the end of the moving sidewalk that mentions "Closed Sectors." The acronyms listed actually stand for closed attractions and the lands they were once located in:
- FL-MTWR=Fantasyland, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
- TL-SK2FL=Tomorrowland, Skyway to Fantasyland
- MSU-SB=Main Street USA, Swan Boats
- FL-MMR = Fantasyland, Mickey Mouse Revue
- TL-M2M = Tomorrowland, Mission to Mars
14. IT'S AN ATTRACTION AT FIVE OF THE DISNEY PARKS.
Even though it's more than 40 years old, Space Mountain has continued to be so popular over the years that there's a version of it at five of Disney's resorts. The Hong Kong and Tokyo Disney versions of Space Mountain were almost identical to Disneyland's Space Mountain; Tokyo's received a bit of a facelift in 2007. Disneyland Paris originally had Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune, a Jules Verne-inspired design that included inversions. It was renovated in 2005 and re-emerged as Space Mountain: Mission 2.
Shanghai Disneyland is expected to break tradition when it opens later this year, however—instead of a Space Mountain coaster, guests will experience a thrill ride based on the lightcycles from the movie Tron.
15. THE RIDE GETS REVAMPED FROM TIME TO TIME.
Disney isn't afraid to mess with a classic. Disneyland has featured "Rockin' Space Mountain" with a Red Hot Chili Peppers soundtrack, and also transforms the ride into "Ghost Galaxy" during the Halloween season, a tradition started at Hong Kong Disneyland. Last year, riders got to join in on an X-wing Starfighter battle in the "Hyperspace Mountain" overlay, part of a seasonal Star Wars event called Season of the Force.