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The Deep Secrets of "Mission: Space"

Jim Hill

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The Deep Secrets of "Mission: Space"

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After a summer of demolition, the "Horizons" show building is no more. Its old Future World location has been scraped clean and -- even as you read this -- a new foundation is being poured for the massive "Mission: Space" attraction. Theme park enthusiasts worldwide are itching to ride this cutting edge attraction -- which will supposedly momentarily duplicate the sensation of weightlessness NASA astronauts experience as they rocket through the cosmos. Epcot cast members are equally excited about the idea of the projected 2003 opening of this state-of-the-art ride. With its liberal mix of hard science and high tech thrills, "Mission: Space" is shaping up to be *THE* definitive attraction for this science and discovery park.

But -- to be honest -- nobody's happier that the Walt Disney Company finally decided to greenlight "Mission: Space" than the Imagineers. After all, these poor slobs have trying for the past year or so to get numerous ambitious new attractions approved for Disney's stateside parks.

Unfortunately, this meant constantly scaling back and/or down-sizing proposed rides and shows in a desperate attempt to meet new WDI head Paul Pressler's financial mandate (I.E. "If it ain't cheap, we ain't buildin' it").

So many promising projects got their plugs pulled that veteran Imagineers had begun to despair that the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts had seen their very last really-for-real "E" ticket attraction.

But then along came "Mission: Space." And -- thanks to the incredibly deep pockets of the Compaq Corporation -- Future World's about to get a ride that will put Disney back on the theme park map. You can forget about Universal's Islands of Adventure and its incredible "Amazing Spiderman" ride. "Mission: Space" -- with its awesome simulation of the G forces that push space travelers back into their seats as they blast into orbit -- will soon set the gold standard for all attractions to follow.

Sounds like one hell of a ride, don't it? And yet -- while I'm sure thousands of Epcot visitors will eagerly line up daily for the privilege of being pummeled during a simulated trip into space -- I personally will always get a little wistful as I get on line to ride "Mission: Space."

Why for? Well, no matter how entertaining the finished version of "Mission: Space" pavilion will be, I won't be able to forget what friends at WDI have told me about Imagineering's original plans for Epcot's "Space" pavilion. Had Disney opted to go forward with that version of this proposed Future World attraction ... Ai yi yi! ... Surgeons would have had labored for hours to remove the smiles from our faces, kids. That's how much fun "Mission: Space" would have been.

Hard as it may be to believe, the $150 - $200 million that Compaq's ponied up for "Mission: Space" pavilion isn't nearly enough scratch to cover the construction costs of the Imagineer's original vision for this Future World pavilion. $300 million might have covered it. *MIGHT HAVE.* That's a huge sum, I know. But -- once you got inside the "Space" show building as WDI had originally planned the place to be -- you'd have seen that it was money that had been very well spent.

Unfortunately, neither Disney or Compaq was willing to put up the coin necessary to do "Mission: Space" right. So that's how the pre-show of the original version of this proposed Future World pavilion ended up becoming the *ONLY* show WDW visitors will get when they drop by "Mission: Space."

Do you want a taste of the fun you missed out on? Well, it just so happens that Calvin isn't using his transmogrifier today (By the way, Hobbes says "Hi!"). I'll just set this thing so it takes us to the appropriate alternate reality: a place where Imagineers always get all the money they want to build the best Disney theme park attractions possible. (Talk about your Fantasyland...)

Anyway, join me now inside the cardboard box while I press all the right buttons and twirl the appropriate dials. (Please keep your hands and arms inside the box at all times. And hang on to those hats and glasses. For this here's the wildest ride across the space / time continuum ...)

WHOOOSH!

And here we are! Inside a much better Epcot. Ignore that Matterhorn you see sticking up along the far shore of World Showcase Lagoon. We've got no time to visit the Swiss pavilion. (Or the Russian pavilion. Or the African pavilion.) We're here for an adventure in deep space. Which is why we're standing in front of this oddly familiar looking Future World building.

And why does it look familiar? That's because it's still the same old "Horizons" show building. Sure, the exterior has been extensively repainted and rethemed to foreshadow the space- based attraction inside .. But there's no mistaking that old squat diamond shaped exterior. (And why would Disney want to build its fantastic new "Space" show inside the old "Horizons" show building? Two reasons, actually.

1) In theory, this was supposed to have kept construction costs of this new Future World show down. Unfortunately, following the "World of Motion" / "Test Track" and "Journey into Imagination" / "Journey into Your Imagination" debacles, the Imagineers learned the hard way that this theory had no basis in reality.

2) It would have also allowed Disney to skirt recent changes in the Americans with Disabilities act. Strange but true, kids. But if the Imagineers had built their new "Mission: Space" attraction inside the old "Horizons" show building, technically that would have made -- at least in a legal sense -- this all new attraction just a rehab of a pre-existing structure. Which would have meant that the Walt Disney Company was under no obligation to bring this particular pavilion up to current code. Which would have saved the corporation millions in construction costs.

Unfortunately -- after checking out this Future World show building after all the "Horizons" show elements had been removed -- WDI learned that its original plan just wasn't going to work. In order to properly anchor the centrifuge units that were to power the ride vehicles featured in the "Mission: Space" show, the Imagineers were going to have to tear out the existing foundation of the "Horizons" show building. To do this, Imagineering would have to remove most of the superstructure of the building.

When they got this news, the Imagineers realized that it was pointless to try and save the "Horizons" building. Any attempt to preserve the structure would just add to the cost of an already expensive project. So that's why WDI decided that it would be easier -- in the long run -- to just flatten this Future World pavilion and start from scratch.

This is the reason Disney hired a demolition team to carefully tear down the "Horizons" show building earlier this year. The upside of this situation was that the Imagineers now had a clean slate on which to construct its "Mission: Space" building. The downside was that the Mouse now had to wrestle with meeting all of today's ADA standards. But that's another story for another time...

Let's get back to our alternate reality version of "Mission: Space," shall we? )

ANYWAY ... We enter the old "Horizons" show building that's now been redressed for Epcot's new "Space" attraction. After winding our way through the queue, we find ourselves in the pre-show. Here, WDW guests learn that they're about to board a futuristic space shuttle for a quick trip across the cosmos. Once on board, they'll be taken to a fantastic space station that's actually built into the side of an asteroid. After they've arrived at the station, Epcot visitors will be free to disembark and discover the many wonders that are hidden deep inside that asteroid.

Once this briefing was concluded, guests would have then been moved to the shuttle simulator. Here, WDW visitors would have entered a "Star Tours"-like cabin -- where several rows of seats faced a large window-like movie screen.

Ah, but this ain't no trip to Tattoine, kids. There's no motion base to be found under this ride vehicle. The "Mission: Space" shuttle cabin actually hangs at the end of the arm of a massive centrifuge (Which was to have been housed inside the taller portion of the old "Horizons" show building). Once the guests were all properly strapped into their seats, the arm of the centrifuge would begin rotating around its axis.

As this was happening, guests inside the "Mission: Space" cabin would be watching images on the shuttle's main view screen that would have told them that the ship was blasting off into orbit. As the speed that the centrifuge arm was revolving at increased, so would the gravity inside the ride vehicle. Passengers would have felt the increased G forces pushing them down in their seats, which would reinforce the illusion to these WDW visitors that the shuttle was actually leaving Earth for a rendezvous with that far-off asteroid.

At a key point in this "Space" simulation, the massive arm of the centrifuge would suddenly deliberately begin to slow its revolutions. At that instant, Epcot guests inside the cabin would float up out of their seats and experience a brief moment of weightlessness. This sensation alone would make "Mission: Space" the type of attraction WDW guests would love to reride.

But now the images on the cabin's main screen tell us that we're nearing our destination. Just as we've been told in the pre-show, a massive futuristic space station -- built right into the side of an enormous asteroid -- looms in the distance. As the shuttle docks with the station, the guests exit their "Mission: Space" ride vehicle and enter the central area of this Future World pavilion where they find that ...

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