Disney World History: The opening and evolution of the iconic ‘Space Mountain’ attraction

Walt Disney World, Space Mountain 1979 (Photo from Disney)

‘Space Mountain’ opened in the ‘Tomorrowland’ section of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom on January 15th, 1975.

Ever since, the thrill ride has provided park guests with an out-of-this-world experience as they strap into a rocket, drop into darkness, and fly through space, passing comets, shooting stars, and more. Part of what makes the attraction so unique is that it is almost completely in the dark. There are no lights on so guests do not know what is coming next and it also makes the ride feel as if it is going faster than it actually is.

According to the Disney Parks Blog, the mountain itself is over 175 feet tall and 300 feet in diameter. The attraction is encased inside one of Disney’s most iconic buildings, which is shaped like a cone. There are 72 beams encircling the sealed cone, each weighing 74 tons and extending 117 feet toward the top.

John Hench, one of the early Imagineers who helped create the attraction, said that "the cone is a logical way of dispersing the energy that is represented by lifting a car to a certain height and letting it run out by gravity," as stated on the Disney+ show, ’Behind the Attractions.’


Walt Disney World, Space Mountain (Photo from Disney)

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Space Mountain continues to thrill Walt Disney World guests today and several versions of the ride have opened up at Disney parks across the globe. As the 50th anniversary of the company’s Florida resort approaches, we’re taking a look back at the history of the iconic attraction.

According to the ‘Behind the Attractions’ Disney+ show, you have to go back to 1955 to understand how Space Mountain was conceived. Walt Disney was fascinated with the future and space, sparking his idea for ‘Tomorrowland’ at the original Disney theme park, ‘Disneyland,’ in Anaheim, California.

However, the show said that the Imagineers developing the west coast park struggled with their vision of the land and it was the last one developed.

When Disneyland actually opened to the public in July 1955, only a few attractions were said to be in Tomorrowland. For example, there was the ’Rocket to the Moon’ theatre experience and the race-car attraction ‘Autopia,’ but no Space Mountain. With the need for more excitement, Disneyland underwent several expansions, with multiple new rides debuting by 1959.

One of those new attractions was the "Matterhorn Bobsleds’ coaster. According to the ‘Behind the Attractions’ Disney+ show, the Matterhorn was the world’s first tubular steel thrill ride. This allowed for sharp turns and quickly became a popular standard for attractions across the country. 


Matterhorn Bobsleds, Disneyland California (Photo from Disney)

Walt Disney even wanted to create a similar attraction to the Matterhorn, but with a space theme. He had plans for a coaster with four tracks, weaving in and out, partly going outside, and would be operated by a computer. The idea eventually became known as ‘Space Voyage.’

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However, technology was not quite where Walt Disney imagined things yet, so the idea was shelved at Disneyland, the ‘Behind the Attractions’ Disney+ show said. Thankfully, by the mid-1970s, technology was more capable and allowed for the idea to be revisited at Disney’s east coast theme park resort, specifically inside Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom.

On October 1st, 1971, Walt Disney World officially opened to the public with the Magic Kingdom park. It was not until January 15, 1975, that Space Mountain actually opened at the Florida theme park resort. Many attended the monumental day, including several NASA astronauts.


Walt Disney World, Space Mountain 1976 (Photo from Disney)

Upon opening, the attraction reportedly featured a block system controlled by computers. This means that multiple ride vehicles can go at the same time and the block system would control their brakes. The ride also had two tracks, not four like Walt Disney originally imagined. It was built inside of the iconic cone-shaped building and it stays inside for the whole duration of the experience, putting guests in complete darkness as they travel through space.

In the ‘Behind the Attractions’ Disney+ show, Imagineer John Hench said "I followed the first ride and waited for it when they disembarked. One woman struggled out and knelt down and kissed the carpet."


Walt Disney World, Space Mountain (Photo from Disney)

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With a now successful Space Mountain in Florida, Disneyland was ready to bring it over to the west coast. However, that park has less space so their version of the attraction is smaller.

The diameter is reportedly 200 feet, instead of 300, and the ride only features a single-track instead of two. To keep guests flowing on and off the ride as efficiently as Walt Disney World’s version, the ride vehicles sit three rows of two people side-by-side. The original version of the attraction sits people in front and behind each other, not next to each other.


Space Mountain, Disneyland California (Photo from Disney)


Space Mountain, Disneyland California (Photo from Disney)


Space Mountain, Disneyland California (Photo from Disney)


Space Mountain, Disneyland California (Photo from Disney)

Space Mountain went on to open in different variations at Disney parks across the world.

For example, the Space Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland is said to be almost a carbon copy of the California version.

The ‘Behind the Attractions’ Disney+ show said that Disneyland Paris changed things up though, giving the attraction a brass-covered building featuring a giant canon on the side. Instead of sending people into space on a rocket, riders are shot through the cannon. This move was inspired by the Jules Verne story, ‘From the Earth to the Moon.’ The ride completes this idea with a catapult launch system, allowing the attraction to go faster than any other Space Mountain at the time of its opening. It also featured some of the first loops of any Disney ride yet.


Space Mountain, Disneyland Paris (Photo by Stephane Cardinale/Sygma via Getty Images)


Space Mountain, Disneyland Paris (Photo by Stephane Cardinale/Sygma via Getty Images)

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Shanghai Disneyland changed things up even more. The ‘Behind the Attractions’ Disney+ show explained that the people of Shanghai were already familiar with advanced technology and needed an attraction that was more optimized for a Chinese audience. Imagineers drew inspiration from the 2010 ‘Tron: Legacy’ film and created an attraction unlike anything Disney has ever created before: ‘Tron Lightcycle Power Run.’

The ride vehicles are said to be ‘Lightcycles’ instead of rockets. One person sits on a Lightcycle but they are linked together so that riders sit next to each other. The restraint faces people forward and a launch system is used once again, rather than a traditional lift hill. The attraction is 3,169 feet long and 88 feet tall. It is one of Disney’s fastest coasters ever and has set the stage for the next generation of rides for the company.


Tron Lightcycle Power Run, Shanghai Disneyland (Photo from Disney)


Tron Lightcycle Power Run, Shanghai Disneyland (Photo from Disney)

In fact, the attraction is currently being built at Walt Disney World, inside Tomorrowland, right next to Space Mountain — which, even decades later, remains a fan favorite among park guests.


A thrilling, Tron-themed attraction will be added in a new area near Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom. (Photo from Disney)

Walt Disney World will kick off its 50th anniversary celebration, dubbed ‘The World’s Magical Celebration,’ on October 1st and go for 18 months as new experiences debut across the resort.

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