We then see a futuristic-looking Network Operations Center, with people monitoring communications all across the globe, showing the cutting edge of communication. After passing through a tunnel, we find ourselves inside the top of the building, underneath a huge field of stars. As we move along, we see our own planet, our Spaceship Earth, among the stars. Our time machine vehicle then turns around, and traveling backwards we descend back down through the sphere. And as we travel, we pass screens giving an idea of future communications as the narrator reminds us that we are all passengers together on Spaceship Earth.
Spaceship Earth helped set the stage for EPCOT Center in several ways. As mentioned before, the uniqueness of the building helped give people an idea of the futuristic nature of the park. Both before and after the park's opening, just about every news story on television or in print contained an image of the geosphere, as Disney called it. Because it was something you didn't see every day, it grabbed people's attention. Also, the tone of the attraction let guests know what was in store. EPCOT Center was not necessarily like the other Disney Parks, with their fun thrills and movie-themed rides. This park was more serious in nature, inviting guests to discover more about the world in which they live.
Probably because of its location, Spaceship Earth had quite large crowds, especially during the morning hours. But this fact was realized during the park's design, and the attraction was created with large crowds in mind. A variation of Disney's Omnimover system was used; the Omnimover consists of a continuous train of cars moving constantly, although slowly. Spaceship Earth's time machine vehicles moved at a rate of two feet per second, giving guests time to view the different scenes but also making it easy for other guests to board the moving vehicles. Although it doesn't move very quickly, the Omnimover has one of the highest hourly capacities of any of Disney's ride systems because people are constantly loading and unloading. So although there was a line for the ride, it was constantly moving, making the wait time seem to pass more quickly. Still, the best time to visit the attraction was later in the afternoon, after most guests had moved further into the park.
For the original version of the attraction, the narration was provided by Vic Perrin, a voice artist who has a large body of work to his credit, even though he may not be a household name. He is perhaps best known as the Control Voice from the television show "The Outer Limits," which aired from 1963 to 1965. Many people remember the narration by Walter Cronkite and assume he was the original narrator, but that version of the attraction did not appear until 1986. The original promotional material for the park listed the sponsor for Spaceship Earth as the Bell System. But on January 8, 1982, nine months before the park opened, the Bell System announced its breakup, due to government regulations, into AT&T and several smaller, regional companies, which would be complete by January 1, 1984. So then during 1982 and 1983, the Bell System was the sponsor, but by 1984, the sponsor was listed as AT&T. Of course, the world's largest communication company was a perfect sponsor for an attraction about communication. But then communication has also been Disney's main business since the beginning of the company. After all, most entertainment comes in some form of communication.
The attraction had several advisors for its storyline, most notably science fiction author Ray Bradbury, a long time Disney fan, who wrote the original storyline for the attraction. Around the same time, Disney released a film version of Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. And ten years later, Bradbury was an advisor for the Orbitron in Discoveryland at Euro Disneyland, as Disneyland Paris was originally known.
Cutting edge architecture often includes unique challenges. One such challenge that faced the Imagineers was how to illuminate the upper portions of Spaceship Earth at night. Because of its height and spherical shape, lights would have to be mounted on very tall poles to reach the top of the structure. But a different solution was found. The lower and mid parts of the sphere were bathed in purple light, which fades to a deep blue higher up, which becomes darker as the height increases. So the top of Spaceship Earth almost blends into the darkness of the nighttime sky.
An often repeated fact about Spaceship Earth relates to the rain that hits the enormous structure. One can imagine the amount of water that would come gushing off the side of a large sphere, drenching guests as they walk underneath; it is necessary to walk underneath Spaceship Earth to get to the rest of the park. But the rain water is instead collected inside the outer skin of the sphere and channeled to World Showcase Lagoon, protecting guests from the rain.
Spaceship Earth's presentation used methods that were common among the Future World attractions. Among the most notable were the Audio-Animatronic figures used to tell the story. Perhaps the cast was not as large as that of the World of Motion, or as sophisticated as the American Adventure cast. But these figures served their purpose. Their limited movements were not all that noticeable, because they were only seen by guests for less than thirty seconds. Another method common to most all of the attractions was fiber optic lighting. While used to some degree for starfields in Spaceship Earth, fiber optics were used more extensively elsewhere. Disney also developed a system to spray scents in certain scenes to recreate the proper smells. Dubbed the "Smellitzer" by its creator Bob McCarthy, this was used most noticeably for the smell of smoke in the Roman ruins scene of Spaceship Earth. The Smellitzer would spray a scent across the path of guests toward a small air vent, which would pull the scent out of the room so that it would not find its way to other scenes where it was not wanted.
Authenticity abounded in Spaceship Earth. The Egyptian hieroglyphics and writings, the Roman graffiti, the Gutenberg Bible, the Sistine ceiling, and even the 19th century newspaper are all copies of authentic items. The Greek actors are performing a scene from "Oedipus Rex," and the telegraph operator is sending a message about the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The conveyor system used to send paint up to Michelangelo is duplicated exactly. Portions of The Lone Ranger and The Shadow radio dramas can be heard at the early radio broadcast.The movie clips include Girl Shy, Top Hat and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Among the television clips are "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color," "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," and a news broadcast by Walter Cronkite. As with all of EPCOT Center, the Imagineers at WED Enterprises went out of their way to ensure that everything was authentic.
As guests exited Spaceship Earth, they found themselves in Earth Station, which served as the main information location for the entire park. Guest Services Cast Members were on hand to answer any questions guests might have. WorldKey screens lined the walls so that guests could find out more about the park or make reservations for dining. Overhead, large screens gave an abstract animated overview of EPCOT Center's attractions, and there was a rather large seating area facing those screens. Earth Station served the same purpose as City Hall at the Magic Kingdom; any kind of information about EPCOT Center could be found here.
Looking back, Spaceship Earth seems to be the perfect choice for EPCOT Center's introductory attraction. Even though it may not have contained many predictions for the future, it let us know that man has been making advances in communications since the beginning of time. It succeeded artistically, architecturally, and thematically to prepare guests for what lay ahead.
- Story and Photos by Steve Burns
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