Mission: SPACE is a motion simulator thrill ride at Epcot. 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).
The attraction 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.
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 with a nearly $30 million contract awarded in February 2000. Environmental Tectonics sued Disney in 2003 seeking over $15 million US alleging failure to pay the full amount of the contract and sharing proprietary design details with competitors. Disney countersued alleging the company failed to deliver according to the contract and increased the cost of the ride by nearly $20 million US. The companies settled in January 2009.
Mission: SPACE is meant to simulate astronaut training for the first manned 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 replica of a NASA moon rover from the Apollo program.
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 acceleration 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 2.5G, more than twice the force of gravity at the Earth’s surface (effectively multiplying a rider’s weight by 2.5). A few months after the ride’s opening, motion sickness bags were added within easy reach of riders.
The minimum height requirement for Mission: SPACE is 44 inches (112 cm). Warnings throughout the attraction caution that people who do not like enclosed spaces, spinning, or are prone to motion sickness should not ride. Signs also warn that the ride may cause nausea, headache, dizziness or disorientation, and that people prone to motion sickness, or who have a headache or an inner ear problem, or who have a history of migraines, vertigo or elevated anxiety also should not ride. These signs are similar to those present at considerably less-intense rides in the same park, such as Soarin’. There are also signs which instruct the rider to keep their head flat against the headrest; if one ignores this, the centrifugal motion acting on one’s head can cause undesirable effects such as dizziness and/or headaches, or possibly even more serious effects.
Several people have been taken to local hospitals for chest pain and nausea after riding. Most who complained of these symptoms were over 55 years old. Two people have died after completing the ride, although due to pre-existing conditions – one, a 4-year-old boy, with an undiagnosed heart condition, and the other, a 49-year-old woman, from a stroke due to high blood pressure.
On May 19, 2006, Disney began offering a less intense version of Mission: SPACE (called Green Team, also known as Less Intense training or no spinning), where the centrifuge does not spin, thus eliminating the forces of lateral acceleration for riders who choose the more tame experience. The cabs themselves still pitch and pivot, providing some motion. The normal ride is still available and is called Orange Team (also known as More Intense training or spinning).
* Grand Opening: October 9, 2003
* Theme Design: Walt Disney Imagineering
* Design and Manufacturing: Environmental Tectonics Corporation
* Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard
* Show Length: 5:38
* Ride Length: 3:55
* Height Requirement: 44″
* G-Force: 2.5g (sustained)
* Ride System: Interactive centrifuge
* Number of Centrifuges: 4
o Centrifuge theme: Spacecraft cockpit
o Capsules per Centrifuge: 10
o Riders per Capsule: 4
* Capacity: 1,600 riders per hour
* Previous attraction: Horizons
Fastpass availability (*The ride originally featured a single rider queue, but that has since been replaced by the green team standby line.)
* 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 audio.
Horizons was the name of the attraction that Mission: SPACE replaced. Keeping in line with a Disney tradition of paying tribute to defunct attractions in new attractions, Mission: SPACE features several subtle tributes to Horizons.
* The Horizons logo 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 the way out of the attraction.
* The planter at the front of the building is in the former shape of Horizons.
Current Hewlett Packard employees can enjoy a VIP private retreat within Mission: SPACE by visiting The Red Planet Room. The room is open Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm and is attended by a Disney cast member. Entry is restricted and a current HP badge may be required, however reservations are not necessary. Contact Epcot Special Events for details.
The Red Planet Room can be found to the left of the main ride entrance (behind cast members handing out green/orange passes- they can direct you) and is marked with a small sign with the HP logo. Once an HP employee shows their badge, they are lead into a small room, then up a staircase into The Red Planet room
Inside The Red Planet room, HP employees or other VIP’s can enjoy a cool air-conditioned space (with limited seating), free drinks (soda, tea, coffee), an Internet connection (shared laptop), and some of the games (a tilting maze and Postcards from Mars). There is a private restroom, as well as a television.