Your Ultimate & Updated Guide to Mission: Space
Mission: Space returned this week after a few months away. Absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder for many Disney fans, as it was one of the least popular attractions at Walt Disney World prior to its sabbatical. Sensing the problem, Disney shut down the ride to renovate it. This week, it returned in its new form, which is actually two forms. So, what is Mission: Space and should you care about Version 3.0? Read on…
A Return to Disney’s Roots
At the turn of the millennium, The Walt Disney Company wanted to hearken back to its roots. Company founder Walt Disney had loved the idea of space exploration. Some of the earliest programming on his 1950s television show, Walt Disney’s Disneyland, involved the subject.
The halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s were the space age. Walt Disney was just as much a fan of this science fiction become science reality as any other red-blooded American. He hired actual NASA experts to offer advice on rides, and he added multiple space-themed rides to Disneyland.
Rocket to the Moon was one of the original attractions at Disneyland in 1955. Disney updated it to Flight to the Moon in 1967. Then, it changed once again to Mission to Mars in 1975. Why? Mankind had already visited the moon by that time.
A Troubled Mission
With space travel so integral to the early days of the Happiest Place on Earth, Disney executives wanted to honor that history. They developed a new attraction that would mimic a trip to outer space in a way that hadn’t been possible 25-45 years before then. This ride’s calling card would be its authentic recreation of G-forces on the human body.
Disney spent $100 million on the attraction, and they even closed a formerly popular ride known as Horizons. In short, they put a lot of time, energy, and faith in Mission: Space. Their efforts were not rewarded during the early days of the new E Ticket affair.
The problem with outer space travel is that it’s brutal on the human body. The intensity of Mission: Space proved too much for some guests. Several experienced health issues so significant that they required hospitalization. Two tragically died, although both victims had pre-existing conditions that greatly contributed to their deaths. For a period of two years, Mission: Space offered little but failed headlines for Disney.
Mission: Space V2.0
Epcot park planners huddled and came up with a new strategy for the ride. They split it into two versions, the Green Mission and the Orange Mission. The latter version was basically the same as the original. The Green Mission lacked the centrifugal spinning that added G-force to the ride. It was tamer and thereby more palatable to many riders.
Still, Mission: Space had an underlying problem. The ride is kind of uneventful. That’s a strange thing to say about a controversial, mega-expensive Disney attraction, but it’s true.
On Mission: Space, you enter a small ride cart that’s basically a nightmare for people with claustrophobia. You join three other people in tight quarters. A harness straps you down, and you watch a monitor that doubles as Mission Control.
On the screen, the Capcom played by Apollo 13’s Gary Sinise guides you through the titular mission. As the rider, your role is limited. You take on one of four roles: the commander, the engineer, the navigator, or the pilot. During the ride, you push a button once, maybe twice if you’re lucky. And if you are derelict in your button-mashing duty, nothing happens. You can’t fail the mission, so the autopilot does it for you.
The joy of Mission: Space is in experiencing the blastoff of a space shuttle, something people dream about from the time that they are kids. Then, you get to experience the sensation of outer space weightlessness. Afterward, you must navigate an asteroid field and then survive a crash landing on Mars. In theory, it all sounds great. In execution, Mission: Space is kind of lacking.
Plus-ing Mission: Space
One of the dirty secrets of Mission: Space over the years is that it hasn’t had enough foot traffic. In a park with a paucity of E Ticket attractions, guests still largely shunned Mission: Space. It would have a wait-time of 10 minutes or less as Test Track and Soarin’ were 60 minutes or longer. People just didn’t like it enough.
In June of 2017, Disney closed the attraction for renovations. Some rumors even suggested it would never return. That gossip proved unfounded. At D23, Disney revealed that the ride would return with new footage. They also shocked analysts by announcing that the Green Mission and Orange Mission were no longer identical.
The Green Mission is now a trip into outer space that gives guests a rare view of planet Earth. You get to circle from orbit and see the world from beyond the atmosphere. The Orange Mission is still a journey to Mars. So, when you arrive at Mission: Space’s line queue, you have to make an actual choice. Do you want to orbit the Earth or do you want to visit Mars?
Disney also made a couple of changes to entice more guests to visit Mission: Space. The Green Mission is intentionally family-friendly. The height requirement for it is only 40” now. The new version is obviously calmer, and that’s why younger children can ride it compared to the previous iteration. The Orange Mission maintains its aggressive G-force style.
Mission: Space V3.0
How are the new versions? Well, the first major change is that Gary Sinise is out. Disney wanted a more upbeat acting performance as opposed to Sinise’s assured, grizzled veteran. Gina Torres is the new Capcom, which is great news for fans of any of Firefly, Suits, or Destiny. Torres is a wonderful actress who offers an energetic, welcoming presence as the mission leader.
The Orange Mission is updated, but it hasn’t really changed much. Torres recites the same script as Sinise, just with a different delivery. Then, riders move into the ride cart, where the major change is right in front of their faces. The tiny monitors from the old version are gone, replaced by high-quality HD monitors.
Beyond that change, the ride is eerily similar but not quite identical. Some of the visuals are slightly changed, and the dialogue isn’t exactly the same. Even people who have ridden Mission: Space dozens of times would be hard pressed to point out the changes, though. You still launch into space, circle the Earth, avoid an asteroid field, and crash land on Mars. So, the Orange Mission comes down to…updated graphics.
The Green Mission is certainly different but maybe not as much as you’d think. The opening segment liftoff is either identical or close enough that you won’t notice a difference. Once you reach space, you start to orbit, the dialogue changes. The Capcom acts like less of a mission control and more of an interplanetary tour guide, pointing out several impressive visuals of Earth that you can see from space. Then, something surprising happens that I won’t spoil here, but there’s a video below if you don’t mind being spoiled.
While the Green Mission is certainly less dramatic than the one with G-force, I have to say that it feels more fitting as a tribute to Walt Disney and the space age. This ride is about exploration and the sheer joy of being in space.
You get to orbit the Earth’s atmosphere, seeing the world from an inimitable point of view. It’s quite lovely and certainly enough to make you feel like Mission: Space is worth your time again. And that’s really all Disney wanted to achieve here. They’ve added new appeal to an existing attraction that had grown stale. The Capcom can say that this one is mission accomplished.
You can see the changes for yourself by watching these three videos. Here is the Mission: Space of the past ten years:
Here is the new Green Mission aka the Earth Mission:
And here is the updated version of the Orange Mission:
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