Why Spaceship Earth Is Disney’s Greatest Achievement
Are you familiar with Buckminster Fuller? He created one of the most recognizable structures of all time, the geodesic dome.
The writer and futurist also coined a term that every Disney fan knows and loves.
He wrote a book called Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, a phrase Disney honored 13 years later.
Today, I’d like to talk about what Disney did, as I believe Spaceship Earth is its greatest achievement.
What Is Spaceship Earth?
In a way, Spaceship Earth comes in two forms, at least for Disney fans. First, it’s a giant construct of the geodesic dome concept.
So, the attraction works as a landmark for the park. However, it’s also a dark ride that carries guests throughout the entirety of human existence.
When somebody talks about the giant golf ball at EPCOT, they’re discussing the architectural feat that remains unrivaled to this day.
Conversely, if someone mentions riding Spaceship Earth, they’re talking about entering this pavilion and learning about history in a decidedly Disney way.
However, one cannot exist without the other. During the 1970s, Disney married the two forever when it plotted EPCOT.
Fuller’s book had come out in 1969 and immediately earned acclaim for its bold ideas about civilization.
The scientist believed strongly that humanity must work together to maximize the resources of planet Earth.
To Fuller, we’re all taking a cruise through the stars, and Earth is a starship. He also felt strongly that we must power it correctly.
The futurist invented a notion that remains vital to this day. It’s called Dymaxion. In simplest terms, it’s getting the most power while using the least energy.
Companies like Tesla and Microsoft still puzzle over the best applications of this law today.
In a way, the construction of EPCOT utilized it as well. After Walt and Roy Disney died, their company lacked direction and resources.
Their former co-workers felt compelled to attempt Uncle Walt’s most daring project, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
Unfortunately, they were low on funding for such an ambitious build. The one thing they had was Imagineering ingenuity, though.
Brainpower and strength of will propelled Imagineers to achieve greatness with EPCOT.
The Impossible Build
Quick, name some other structures that remind you of EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth. You probably cannot name one unless you’re either a Disney buff or live in Europe.
In Rust, Germany, Europa Park has copied Spaceship Earth with its ride, the Eurosat CanCan Coaster.
This European competitor opened its version of a giant geodesic dome in 1989. It did so due to the tremendous popularity of Spaceship Earth.
The other copy is even older and dear to my heart. I’ve lived most of my adult life in Knoxville, Tennessee, home of the Sunsphere.
Diehard Disney fans know that Imagineers had input in the creation of this golden glass sphere.
Knoxville wanted a landmark when it hosted the 1982 World’s Fair. So, officials from that project liaised with Disney, which was building something similar.
Neither the Sunsphere nor Spaceship Earth is an actual geodesic dome. Each one takes liberties with the concept. But, humorously, the knockoff at Europa Park IS one.
Imagineers aimed higher, though. They built a geodesic polyhedron with three legs.
Disney planted those legs far under the ground to ensure the structure’s integrity. As a result, there’s a lot of foundation you can’t even see that secures the place.
Imagineers faced unprecedented struggles in building Spaceship Earth. They came in three forms.
The former swampland at EPCOT wasn’t well-suited for giant structures. In fact, one part of EPCOT is famously a sinkhole.
Imagine the challenge of creating a 15.5-million-pound building on top of that land!
Also, hurricanes are a thing in Florida, and this presented Imagineers with two other challenges.
Spaceship Earth needed to hold up in the face of a hurricane, which it CAN do.
Then, there’s the side issue of rain. So, Imagineers designed Spaceship Earth in a way that it would never drip water on guests.
The Other Half of Spaceship Earth
Thus far, I’ve focused on the exterior. But that’s only half the genius of this attraction.
Park planners wanted Spaceship Earth to do more than look good from the outside. They admired Fuller’s work and Uncle Walt’s wishes.
So, the interior needed to tell a story fitting of Walt Disney, one authentic to the teachings of Buckminster Fuller.
Imagineers accomplished this by going back to the beginning…and I don’t mean Disney.
On Spaceship Earth, you’re a time traveler experiencing significant moments in history.
You start at a Time Station and board a four-person time machine to journey through the evolution of humanity.
The ride starts with cavepeople fighting a wooly mammoth, but the hunt isn’t the point. Instead, it’s the symbolism behind the fight.
For the first time, humans work collectively for a mutually beneficial goal. This teamwork allows them to fell the beast.
From there, Spaceship Earth highlights other significant moments throughout our existence.
The ride pays particular attention to advances that connect society more. The written word, the printing press, television, and the internet show this.
Over thousands of years, people have gotten better at sharing knowledge and working together.
Yes, you may have never considered it, but Spaceship Earth is brimming with optimism. It embraces Fuller’s philosophy that we need one another.
Otherwise, our Spaceship Earth will burn through all its resources and die in space. We bear the responsibility of learning from mistakes and improving.
In that regard, the attraction highlights Walt Disney’s belief that his theme parks are a place for everyone, an inclusive paradise.
Almost as importantly, Spaceship Earth teaches with its emphasis on infotainment, another passion of Walt’s.
From a meta-perspective, Spaceship Earth works as a landmark, an architectural wonder, AND a theme park attraction.
Nothing else at Disney has ever done that.