A recent episode of SyFy Channel’s The Expanse featured a character struggling against force of gravity. A space pilot, he found himself crushed by the unexpected velocity of his engine modifications. While watching it, I couldn’t help but think of Mission: Space, the Disney attraction notorious for its body count. Fairly or not, the media chronicled a series of misfortunes that painted Mission: Space in a horrific light. Read on to discover what Disney has learned from what’s become known as their killer ride and how its legacy has impacted their overall ride design.
There’s such a thing as too real
Roller coaster enthusiasts love to trumpet the g-forces of various attractions. It’s a way of keeping score, with the higher g-force ride earning the title of most epic. A problem exists with this line of thinking. Not everybody loves the idea of extreme, condensed gravity. To the contrary, a bit of it goes a long way.
That’s doubly true of guests who suffer from motion sickness. Speaking from experience, a couple of rides at Universal Studios Florida are enough to make me nauseous since so many of them are motion simulators. I have to space out these attractions, even though I enjoy them. Even as a diehard fan of The Simpsons, I cannot journey on The Simpsons Ride multiple times in a short period. My body simply won’t allow it. And I’m an adrenaline junkie.
Now imagine this situation from the perspective of someone who doesn’t enjoy rough rides. An attraction that simulates space flight doesn’t sound like escapist entertainment. To the contrary, it sounds like something such a person would endure rather than enjoy. NASA’s particular about their astronauts for a reason. Extreme gravity’s not for everybody, which is why they do all those tests. Similarly, a change from weightlessness to extreme gravity is brutal on the body. Sometimes, an honest recreation like this is too much.
Disney badly miscalculated by making Mission: Space too realistic, with 2.5 Gs of force applied to each rider. That balloons a person’s weight by a factor of 2.5. Most folks aren’t prepared for that sort of alteration to their body, and the change aggravates them.
Mission: Space was designed as a kind of tribute to Walt Disney’s love of outer space exploration…but would he have liked the ride? That’s unlikely since it’s lacking anything resembling fun. Mission: Space is a simulation more than it’s an attraction, and simulations only work if they entertain enough to persuade the guest that they’re somewhere else. It’s the first law of theme park ride creation yet Imagineers forgot that.
All the rides they’ve created since then have either toned down the thrill portions of found ways to magnify these elements without impairing the rider’s comfort. The company went back to basics, accepting that Disney rides are supposed to be immersive experiences, not ones with an adrenaline rush.