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The Space Mountain Discovery

The Space Mountain Discovery

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For those of you who visited the French version of Space Mountain and have an eye for detail, it won't come as a mystery that the attraction's original initials -- which are literally everywhere in it -- were actually DM, not SM. And those of you who read Alain Littaye's and Didier Ghez's book "From Sketch to Reality," know that those initials stood for Discovery Mountain, renamed Space Mountain, for marketing reasons, only a few days before its inauguration.

What you may not know, however, is that the first concepts of Discovery Mountain included a lot more that just a roller-coaster. And I do mean a lot more.

The diameter of the mountain itself -- which at the time was designed as a stunning structure of glass and metal -- was to be a full 100 meters, instead of 61 as it is today. That's obviously a huge difference in space. What would have filled this immensely larger area? The roller-coaster itself and its wholly apparent propelling machinery but also an attraction named Horizons, a larger version of The Nautilus, an underwater restaurant, a cafe and the Railroad Station of Discoveryland. As if all this was not enough yet, the whole structure would have been linked by aerial tubes to CinéMagique and Videopolis (you can still see on the Eastern facade of Videopolis the holes where the tubes would have connected).

The key to the first version of the plan was that guests entering through Main Street U.S.A. would be able to stay undercover -- out of the wet or cold weather -- by walking up the Discovery Arcade, which would continue all the way into Discovery Mountain. Once they were actually inside, Discovery Mountain's entire interior was supposed to be lit from lights that were in the water. That is to say: underwater in the lagoon where the 200 foot version of the Nautilus was berthed.

Once they were inside Discovery Mountain guests would have had three choices when it came to destinations. They could walk around the lagoon to the right and -- at the halfway point -- get in line to ride Discovery Mountain. Or they could continue all the way around the indoor lagoon and board the Nautilus itself.

Here, the line was to have split in two. Guests who had made reservations months in advance would then be able to dine at the park's most exclusive restaurant (Even more exclusive than "Walt's"): Nemo's Grand Saloon. Which would offer diners a view similar to that of the Coral Cove at Epcot's "Living Seas" pavilion. Only -- in this case -- instead of generic artificial coral displays, one would have looked out at the ruins of Atlantis. The idea for recreating Nemo's Grand Saloon is not a new one at WDI. It actually dates back to Tony Baxter's first concepts for Discovery Bay, in the mid '70s.

If -- on the other hand -- you hadn't thought to call ahead and book a table at Nemo's Grand Saloon, you could just go on the Nautilus walk-through. Which supposedly would have tried to do the whole wet-for-dry thing that the current DLP Nautilus walk-through does.

In some of the early renderings of Discovery Mountain, one can also distinguish an other exciting concept. Remember that circular piece at the top of the mountain (You know? The part below the spires?): it was actually conceived as a Skyway type station, where guests would have been able to board smallish Hyperion style airships for a trip over Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. The non-Tomorrowland terminus for this attraction would have been in Adventureland out behind the Explorer's Club. Which explains this amazing rendering that you can admire on the first interior cover of "From Sketch to Reality."

And -- yes -- the elevator that would have taken you to the Hyperion / Skyway station was located inside of Discovery Mountain too.

Mind you, when the Discovery Mountain project was at its biggest and craziest, there were also plans for an observation deck and a cafe at the top of the mountain, to supposedly allow guests to take in this extremely grand view of the theme park. (For this concept the Imagineers were obviously inspired by the Eiffel Tower).

But -- of course -- an attraction-within-an-attraction-with-an-attraction set-up like this would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars. And -- as Euro Disneyland began to get "descoped" -- these various fanciful ideas began to get whittled away from Discovery Mountain's footprint.

First the mountain top observation deck and cafe disappeared from the project's plans. Then the airship terminus. For a time, this attraction was replaced by a thrill ride that proposed combining two of the canceled projects -- the mountain top observation deck and the elevator up to the airship terminus -- into a whole new sort of Disney theme park attraction. A "Free Fall" sort of thing where guests would suddenly feel like they were in peril as an elevator they were riding on suddenly lost power and dropped back to the ground ... Yes, this is where the Imagineers first proposed doing a "Tower of Terror" type ride at a Disney theme park ...

The background story for the whole of Discovery Mountain was inspired by the Vernian theme of Mysterious Island, a volcanic island inhabited by Captain Nemo whose principal source of energy was the volcano itself. One of the proposed attractions based around that theme that was envisioned for the future of the land was a simulator-type ride which would have been called "Nemo's Lava Cruiser".

Although few guests realize it, the mythology of the lava-generated energy remains to this day. Space Mountain is supposed to be situated on top of a large volcano, whose power is used by the gigantic Columbiad canon.

As you can see, before financial realities started creeping in, as far as Discovery Mountain was concerned, for the Imagineers sky was the limit!

That's it for today, but before wrapping-up, here are a few odd additional details and titbits:

At the entrance of Discoveryland, when the park opened, some amazing flamethrowers were actually functioning (around the water areas right where you exit Main Street to enter Discoveryland). It was a truly spectacular effect. Those of you who attended the Grand Opening, probably know what I mean. Unfortunately they used liquid nitrogen, a system that was difficult to master from a security and from a budget point of view.

The neon lights in the land, according to Imagineer Tim Delaney, are symbolic representations of the flow and energy of new ideas.

Costume designer Marilyn Sotto, when she conceived the costumes of Discoveryland, wanted to create a futuristic but "extemporal" look. To reach that ideal, she was inspired by the drawings and style of French comic book artists Moebius and Bilal.

Since I always refer to the book From Sketch to Reality in that series, I just would like to remind you that, at the latest news, Didier Ghez still seems to be selling limited and regular editions of the English version of the book at a discount price. For more information you can contact him at [email protected].

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  • Wow, I didn't know that. When my family and I were in France, no one told us this. Or maybe we were just focused on other things, because it was during this period that an ant started up in our house and while we were resting, the pest control service cleared our house of them. We were happy to return to our home without ants

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