The Amazing History of Building Spaceship Earth
The golf ball. The ice cream scoop. The big white ball. Whatever your preferred nickname, Spaceship Earth is undoubtedly the icon of Epcot, and has been since its opening in 1982. When you’re approaching the Park, ‘the ball’ can be clearly seen from some distance away, and when I was younger that sight meant I was in for a long, hot day of World Showcase touring with the adults.
Now, it means fantastic food, great photo opportunities, and (usually) a fantastic festival with food and drinks to keep me going until the final sweep. Time has shown that the design of Spaceship Earth and the ride that it houses perfectly encapsulated the identity of Epcot (even in a time before World Showcase).
To this day its design and construction remain one of the many jaw-dropping architectural feats The Walt Disney Company has ever completed. So, as a tip of the cap to the Imagineers behind the ball, let’s explore what went into the attraction that teaches us something new each time we visit.
If you didn’t know, Spaceship Earth is home to an attraction that shares the namesake. Deemed “a slow-moving journey through Earth’s history”, the attraction base is most closely exemplified by comparing it to a spiral staircase. This spiraled platform was designed and installed first, before ‘the ball’ portion was built! Check out this early construction image!
Ray Bradbury, famed author of books like Fahrenheit 451 AND The Martian Chronicles, was responsible for assisting Imagineers in the design of the attraction and even wrote the storyline for the original version of the ride!
EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and the Park needed an icon that would support the acronym. Bradbury came up with the ‘passage of time’ theme, and he went on to pen the slow-moving journey that guests take.
It might appear that Spaceship Earth is gently supported by the thin beams that connect it to Mother Earth, but the roots of those support beams are actually about 160’ below the concrete! 15,520,000 lbs! Those deep-set beams were then connected by heavy metal that serves as a sort of ‘bowl’ that the rest of the attraction would sit on.
Today, the beams appear to ‘extend’ outwardly, and since nothing done by Disney was done haphazardly, I was intrigued to recently learn that the outreaching design was meant to represent Mother Earth reaching out to embrace you, her child.
The installation of the Disney-named “quadrupods” were the next phase of the construction process. If you look at the outer shell portion- aka the white part that the guests see- you’ll notice that the surface is made up of hundreds of pyramid-shaped triangles that interlock to create one skin. The same principle is put to use for the inside layer, which serves as the actual ‘wall’ of the attraction.
When the outer shell was applied, guests saw this as the final step in the completion of this mesmerizing structure. The white shell pieces were fitted together and laid over the quadrupod section…but they are not the true exterior. Try this experiment: hold a spherical object under running water and watch where the water goes. It drips off the bottom, right?
When it’s raining in Epcot, you can seek cover under Spaceship Earth and not feel a drop…but that’s not scientifically possible as we proved with the ball experiment, right? That outer shell portion not only serves as super-sleek eye candy, but it actually traps and locks rain so that guests standing underneath won’t get wet! How cool is that?
In 2000, a giant Mickey Mouse hand was installed to the left of the structure as a way to celebrate the millennium. Although it was installed specifically for the turn of the century, the clunky and cartoonish addition was actually left standing until 2007, until Siemens took over the sponsorship of the attraction.
In 2013, Spaceship Earth was digitally mapped inch by inch and an all-new mini show featuring Mike Wazowski was shown on the exterior. This was an INCREDIBLE use of the spherical surface and, even though there isn’t anything on the horizon, I’m still holding out hope that Disney does something like this again in the near future! If you didn’t get to see it in person, you can check it out here!
A Death Star projection map was introduced on the surface of Spaceship Earth in conjunction with the release of Rogue One. Some fans loved it and hoped the exterior of the ride would permanently come to life in celebration of the Star Wars icon, but fans of the unadulterated Spaceship Earth didn’t have to wait very long for the original to be restored.
During the International Festival of the Holidays, Epcot and the nations represented in World Showcase wish you a happy and healthy holiday season by way of a holiday wrapping projection.
Spaceship Earth is full of history, literally and figuratively! A ride through the attraction will take you from the cave man through modern day, and now that you’re armed with the knowledge of how the exterior came to be, you can impress your travel party the next time you queue up for the attraction!
Ready to take your favorite Disney content wherever you go? Check out The Making Magic Podcast, covering all things Disney, hosted by myself and Greg Antonelle by clicking here, or over on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/making-magic/id1449862561?mt=2&i=1000427864780
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