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It Was the Most Controversial Disney Ride Ever Built. Here's Why.

Does this ride make me look fat?

Image: Disney

The construction of Mission: Space was costly, to be sure. Disney invested $100 million in the tear-down and rebuild of the former Horizons building. It’s far from the most expensive attraction at Epcot, but it’s also a bit pricier than, say, Journey into Imagination with Figment. And from the beginning, Imagineers and NASA experts alike understood that what they were planning would push the limits of theme park tourism, albeit with a remarkably straightforward ride structure.

Anyone who speaks of amusement park attractions occasionally tosses out the term g-force, as if they could teach a physics class on the subject. That’s because the underlying premise is simple. When you experience a G of force, your body feels as if it’s twice its normal weight. As someone who weighs about 215 pounds, that means a single G turns me into a sumo wrestler. Two Gs means I feel like Ahab the determined sailor is my mortal enemy.

We’re all the same in this regard. No feeling is as strange to humans as the sensation of g-force, which is why there are all those funny videos demonstrating what it does to a human face. Space travel demands a lot of facial combat with dramatic g-force. In order to simulate this sensation, NASA developed something their trainees do not affectionately describe when they call it the Vomit Comet. It’s a stress test for the human body, revealing which potential candidates can hold up to the extreme challenges of g-forces and zero-gravity environments.

Centrifugal Me

Image: Disney

As a reminder, NASA does this to test the best and the brightest among their ranks. Disney Imagineers consulted with NASA, eventually settling on the construction of a ride that basically does the same thing. It was a bold gambit as well as a questionable decision that many Disney fans debate to this day. Suffice to say that there’s a difference between someone competing to earn a trip to the International Space Station and a theme park visitor sneaking in a four-minute ride before their dinner reservation triggers at the World Showcase.

Disney believed that they could pull off the feat. They designed a structure similar to classic amusement park rides of old. It’s a series of rides connected to spokes. A large apparatus is the wheel that tethers each piece together. If you struggle to visualize this description, here’s a terrific explanation from someone who used CAD to create a mock-up. The trick is that classic amusement cart rides spin people from the bottom up. Mission: Space inverts the structure. The spokes point down instead of up. Otherwise, the premise is generally the same.

Image: Disney

The catch is that Disney wasn’t satisfied repurposing a classic amusement park staple. Instead, they wanted to add their own twist, the zero-gravity element that creates the sensation of space travel. The attraction is a trip to Mars, after all.

The first phase of the journey is lift-off from planet Earth. That requires a great deal of friction in the form of 2.5 Gs, which means that if you weigh 200 pounds, you’ll feel as if you’re 500 pounds during the start of Mission: Space. It’s in this phase where the centrifuge comes into play. The structure whips you around at an alarming rate.

Once you reach orbit, the sensation changes. You are now in a zero-gravity environment. Nothing holds you in place. You’ll feel as if you’re floating weightlessly. Mission: Space thrusts you into a confusing combination of experiences that transpire in a single minute of real-time. First, you weigh too much and then you weigh nothing at all.

If that doesn’t make you dizzy, well, Disney has you covered. The final part of the ride is a controlled crash landing on the surface of Mars. Mission: Space is functionally a stress test of the entire human body. To wit, it’s neither the fastest nor most thrilling ride at Walt Disney World. Despite this, it IS the only attraction that includes a motion sickness bag.

Early warning signals

Image: Disney

NASA engineers alerted Disney to the potential downsides of their joint venture. When Mission: Space debuted in August of 2003, many of the opening day comments focused on the comical number of warning signs in the line queue. The company understood the dangers. It’s hard not to laugh about them when listed together.

Due to the isolation of the ride cart, which is functionally a tiny closet enclosure, it’s terrible for sufferers of claustrophobia. Because of the twirling and dramatic weight changes in a short period, Mission: Space isn’t for pregnant women or guests with heart conditions. Yes, a lot of rides state those terms. The difference is that this attraction has tragically proven its dangers.

What’s important right now is that Disney was so well aware of the potential nausea issues for their ride that they built a rest area just outside the ride. When Cast Members recognize that a guest is suffering from the lingering effects of Mission: Space, they take the person to this room, which has various bathroom cabinet types of medical options and a sink. Most guests simply sit still until they can catch their breath and feel the room stop spinning. Stating the obvious, interplanetary space travel isn’t for everyone.

In addition to having onsite caregiving just outside the ride, Disney added warnings as a key part of the Cast Member dialogue. They wanted all the potential riders to understand the challenge they were embracing. Alas, sometimes a batch of warning signs and ride restrictions simply adds to the intrigue. Epcot never had the reputation as a thrill ride park. The introduction of a 2.5-G attraction that also simulates zero-gravity conditions wasn’t something that guests would ignore.

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There are 18 comments.

Fascinating--I hung on every word. But I still don't know exactly where I stand on Mission:Space. I rode the intense side first, didn't effect me too much, but on each time after that, I rode the green side. I think the warning signs need to be in more languages--Could that German woman read of the dangers the ride presented?

Germany is a bilingual country for the most part, with most people speaking English in addition to German.

I rode Mission Space years ago, and was nauseated for three hours afterwards. Now being older I have been experiencing claustrophobia, so I will not ride Mission Space ever again. Sad.

It is a very interesting article, but many people fail to realize that other beloved attractions at Disney parks have had more deaths-Space Mountain at WDW for example has had three. And simply because of the incredible amount of people that visit Disney parks each year attractions will just happen to have a death occur in conjunction with a ride on them. Even the carousel at Magic Kingdom has had a guest die after riding it.

Actually, 1 G of force is equivalent to your body weight. 2 Gs would be twice as much as your body weight while 0 G is weightlessness. 1 G does not make you feel twice as heavy as this author stated.

Okay, former Mission Space cast member here (Using a pseudonym to protect my identity cause it's necessary, just hear me out). I worked at Space for about 6 months before moving to another park for higher pay, but I loved Space. Most of the information in this article is incorrect. It's not falsified, just misinformed, not qualms there, but those "Closets" are nothing more than a sink with clothes and towels. Oh and our lost and found. Now, when you get into a capsule, a cast member checks your restraints (Don't ever say "I CAN'T REACH THE BUTTONS." We know, and we don't care). Once we close the capsule, we make sure everything is okay and we close and lock the doors, then we push the big green button and begin loading for the next cycle. After that, we have about 4 minutes to do nothing, but we monitor the ride using cameras and a series of messages, we also have a cast member sitting behind that glass in the queue, which EVERYONE always asks "Are they real, and what are they doing?" The answer to both is yes, and they're making sure your sorry butt is safe. They mark down all the red text that pops up on 4 different monitors, usually if a door fails open it causes a ride stop or a dispatch inhibit. No big deal, we just clear them and continue. If someone Code Vs, that cast member calls custodial who then shows up 30 minutes later, and takes 40 minutes to clean. The floor on the ride drops out and the ride itself spins at 35 mph. Not that fast, right? Right. 2.5 G's are literally nothing compared to what real astronauts encounter, up to 8 even 10 G's. Also, please don't bend the launch tickets, we reuse those.

"No matter how desperate Disney became in altering the dynamics of the ride, the results are universally positive. The developers of Mission: Space, who by the way participated in a protracted legal dispute with Disney over payment shortfalls and intellectual property, claim that more than 35 million people have ridden the twin versions of the attraction. It’s undeniably one of the most popular Walt Disney World additions of the 21st century."
"Perhaps this news explains why the lines at Mission: Space remain modest during all but the most popular periods on the calendar despite the paucity of thrill rides at Epcot."
"...and one of its most popular draws in the 21st century."

Some contradictory comments.

One error in your article, Mission Space is not the only Disney attraction with sickness bags. Mickey's Fun Wheel at California Adventure in Anaheim features sickness bags as well.

All in all, a good article. There is some speculation in there with regards to some things, and some facts that aren't quite right.

I want to point out some technical errors with the way the attraction operates. I'm not sure what these "lifts" and "spinners" you mention are. There are four separate centrifuges in the building, one for each flight bay. Each centrifuge, or MAC, has five arms, with each arm supporting two capsules, for a total of ten capsules per centrifuge. The MACs operate completely independent of one another.

Nothing is ever lifted. In fact, the floor drops out from under the capsules for the duration of the ride. On the More Intense side, MACs 3 and 4, the centrifuges spin at certain points to create G-forces all while the capsules pitch and roll. On the Less Intense side, MACs 1 and 2, the centrifuges do not spin (except for one very slow rotation to "rehome", leaving the capsules to handle all of the motion experienced during the ride. This was mostly a software change. They could easily convert 1 and 2 to be More Intense again in the future, if they chose to.

Also, depending on how you look at it, the Less Intense side does not really mark the first time Disney has offered two version of a ride. On the old version of Star Tours, and on Body Wars, "flight test" versions of the rides were offered on occasion that removed the motion aspect of the ride.

Great article. I was just discussing this attraction with my wife. We both rode this back in the early 2000s, before they had the two intensity levels, and she immediately hated it. I thought it was neat but did not appreciate the feeling it left me with. I only recently went on the Green side and while neat I don't really see the point. If you think about the most popular movies, games, rides etc the one thing they all have in common is people always want to experience it again and again. Mission Space leaves me with zero desire to ride it again. It's kind of a one and done kind of ride and based on the low wait times for this ride I suspect that others think the same thing.

One thing is I hope the new millinium falcon ride isn't based on this ride design but based on the description and Disney's propensity to wanting to utilize one ride design for multiple attractions this wouldn't surprise me at all.

Our family is big thrill seekers and love all types of rides. We have ridden both the orange and green one. Both made us all sick, the orange one made us sick for hours after we rode and although the green was less force it still made us all uneasy for a couple hours. It's a shame there isn't the option of riding it without it moving at all as I think more people would be able to experience it. It's a pretty cool ride if u take out the feeling sick after the ride factor.

1G, or "a G" is your normal weight. IOW, what you feel everyday you are on Earth. 2G is two times the force of gravity, thus twice your normal weight. Continue in the same progression. A "G" is not twice your weight.

I know I'm in the minority, but I love Mission Space.

I like it, too, the mild side anyway. I like Horizons better, but I do also like Mission: Space.

Interesting article. Mission:Space, to me, exemplifies what is wrong with EPCOT. I went with my parents shortly after it opened and liked what was there, but really felt like there weren't enough rides. With Norway currently under construction, there Is now oneFEWER ride. Mexico and now Nemo have been upgraded while Journey to Imagination and arguably Mission : Space are not as good as the original. Soaring over California is a welcome addition as it Test Track, but the complaint is the same; there aren't enough rides. If you were going to rip out one of the originals, it should be Energy; still the best place in all of WDW to take a nap. As much of.a fan as you may be of EPCOT, there is no denying that it would be far better if Horizons, World of Motion and Body Wars were still in operation. That is to say nothing of the various rumored attractions that never came to be in World Showcase. Yes, I know that is because the EPCOT model is to have each pavillion sponsored, but there Ellie's the problem, NOT having enough active sponsors has, and always will keep EPCOT from being great, and that's a real shame. It just makes it harder and harder to keep dragging my kids to EPCOT when it really hasn't changed since the last mediocre trip we made there.

Mission: Space is one of my "must-do" attractions each time! I've ridden it three times in a row after finishing a couple of yards (when they still sold them) of Strongbow cider. Then again, I was always one of those kids who rode the teacups as many times in a row as my parents would let me.

From the times I've ridden it with people who didn't enjoy it, it was usually because they ignored the instructions to keep their head back and eyes always facing forward. I think it's not for everyone, but I think anyone who lays blame at Disney's feet for anything is just looking for a quick payday.

I'm not much of a fan of M:S, but I don't begrudge it for the people who love thrill rides. Epcot needs an overhaul, but I think this is one case where they need to go back to the past. In Future World, as long as you didn't aim towards Test Track or Soarin', you could fire a rocket and stand a good chance of not hitting anyone. I tell people to think of World Showcase as a widely-ethnic shopping mall. But all in all, the list of 'old rides I miss' is much longer than the 'new rides I like as well if not better'.

Mission:Space is the best attraction at Epcot, to suggest Speed track is better, like the article implied just seems strange, but perhaps this is because I had no negative effects from the ride.

For me it is one of the top attractions at Disney parks.

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