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From the Earth to the Moon: Launching Disneyland Paris’ Legendary Lost Space Mountain

Click and expand for a more detailed view. Image: Disney

Welcome to Disneyland Paris. When this park opened in 1992, it was a beautiful, fanciful, detailed, and story-centered take on the original Disneyland in Anaheim, custom-built and meticulously-designed to appeal to European audiences.

Discoveryland might’ve been one of the park’s bravest reinventions, casting away the sterile, sleek, silver sci-fi future as envisioned by the “Tomorrowland” concept in favor of a golden seaport based on the retro-futuristic fantasy ideals of European thinkers and writers from the Renaissance to the Victorian age. Swirling da-Vincian planetary models, organic red rocks, forested hillsides, and babbling brooks made it clear that this vision of tomorrow was rooted in the past, creating a world at one with nature rather than opposed to it.

Image: Disney

One thing this new take on Tomorrowland did not feature? Space Mountain. And it made some deal of sense… A white, gleaming, Space Age conical peak wouldn’t do here. But on June 1, 1995 – three years after the park’s opening – Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune opened at the center of Discoveryland.

Here, the peak is a glowing, golden mountain adorned with rivets, brass casing, and oxidized copper rails. It’s set alongside a bubbling lagoon from which iron-rich geometric rocks have burst forth as if holding up the mountain’s side. Captain Nemo’s imposing Nautilus is docked in the geothermal water.

Click and expand for a more detailed view. Image: Disney

But the mountain’s most astounding feature must be the bronze Columbiad Cannon anchored at the water’s edge, scaling the entire length of the mountain’s side. It terminates in a vibrant red trajectory sight, fixed on the sky overhead.

Step under the ride’s marquee and walk along the water’s edge, around the Cannon, and prepare for adventure.

The Baltimore Gun Club Queue

As you walk along the water’s edge and pass the imposing Nautilus, you may find yourself gazing up at the towering golden façade of this one-of-a-kind Space Mountain. Within a twenty-five foot tall bronze frame is the ride's attraction poster (perhaps the most gorgeous in the entire catalogue of Disney Parks poster art) that serves as an in-universe, Victorian-era exposition advertisement for the wonders we're about to witness...

Image: Disney

Suddenly, the waterfront queue gives way to a crack in the exterior of the otherwise impenetrable peak. And herein lies your first impression that this Space Mountain will be unlike any other: you’re at once standing on an open platform that passes through the core of the mountain – La Voie Stellaire. The inner workings of the roller coaster surround you, with trains roaring through the depths of a glowing, majestic spacescape to the sounds of The Rocketeer’s orchestral soundtrack.

Image: Disney

As you gaze out into the infinite unknown, a rocket train full of riders comes screaming toward the suspended pathway, diving beneath queuing guests at the last possible second. Unlike the other Space Mountain rides – populated mostly by spinning “stars” created with disco balls in the otherwise pitch-black darkness – this ride will be a sincere journey past stellar, glowing, enormous landmarks that surround you.

The queue continues into the Victorian Lounge of the Baltimore Gun Club, where blueprints, sketches, and schematics of the Columbiad Cannon help to explain our mission today: to board a vehicle bound for the moon, launched to the outer reaches of space.

But our journey to space begins in a most unexpected place: outside. Rather than carrying us into the depths of a claustrophobic space station like in California or Florida, our journey here begins in a new kind of loading area: a sort of open air Victorian social hall decked out with hanging banners and memorabilia from the Club. The breeze blows through as sunlight streams in.

But now, our rocket approaches: an 1800s metal brass train… It’s time to board.

Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune

Image: Disney

Seated on board, one of the ride’s most innovative features is immediately activated: its synchronized on-board audio track (or SOBAT) is cutting-edge, and features a score based on John Williams’ grand, cinematic film compositions. The music will accompany us through the ride, perfectly synchronized to each bend and twist in the track. It’s an adventurous, bright, orchestral score that stands as a stark contrast to the sci-fi theme that would later be developed for Disneyland in California.

Image: Disney

The train departs the station, and at once you find yourself in near darkness, gliding through a wide turn beneath incandescent bulbs. Then, the train dives down to the right, pulling out of the drop and aligning with a blinding sight: the length of the Columbiad Cannon.

It feels now as if the train has been hooked onto from beneath as it’s pulled dutifully up into the Cannon’s base. The Columbiad’s curved side pulls away to give onlookers a view of the loaded train. It advances higher into the cannon as pulsing lights build alongside trumpets in the score. Steam begins to spray as a great burst of fog is emitted from the Cannon’s ring. The train is hurled forward at 40 mph up the incline along the mountain’s peak, generating 1.5Gs of force!

Image: Disney

The train is catapulted into the darkness of the mountain, immediately dropping and helixing downward between glowing blue asteroids. The train dives to the ground then races upward, turning upside down through the ride’s first of three inversions.

Leveling out from the sidewinder, the train narrowly races through the metallic rings of a space mining machines (deployed by the Blue Moon Mining Company) and then races headlong toward a massive meteorite, passing perfectly through its melting, molten center and again racing downward in ever-intensifying helices.

Image: Disney

In the darkness, the train unexpectedly pulls upward and inverts through an elongated corkscrew, providing a moment of hang time and disorientation.

We round the corner and align with a lift hill concealed in the darkness. As the train is swiftly pulled to the top, an image of the Man in the Moon (from the Georges Méliès film) appears overhead, smiling and beckoning us closer!

As the score’s triumphant notes tell us that we’re nearing our goal, the train dives again, swerving between massive comets, slaloming left and right and diving at the last second to avoid the queue’s path.

With a final burst, the train rears up through a unique “horseshoe” inversion (a tight, overbanked, inverting turn) as pulsing blacklights signal your re-entry into the atmosphere. Sparks rain down as the train reaches the Electro de Velocitor, roaring to a halt to signal our arrival back on Earth.

Image: Disney

Videos of the original roller coaster were difficult to capture given the state of photography at the time, so we offer three opportunities to get an inside look: a very dark point-of-view video, a rare look at the ride’s effects and queue and this spot-on digital recreation of the ride’s layout:

But then…

Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune was a true Imagineering masterpiece… an original adaptation of a timeless concept, perfectly positioned to be the headlining attraction for a uniquely wonder-ful Discoveryland and for all of Disneyland Paris.

And today, it’s gone.

On the last page, we’ll address what happened to put an end to this interstellar fantasy journey and why it may signal the end of an era at Imagineering.

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There are 5 comments.

It's often inspiring and heartbreaking to see what has "could've been." I've often daydreamed of an additional to Animal Kingdom (perhaps replacing Rafiki's Planet Watch) that would adapt the Thunder Mesa concept as a trip to the arctic. Rather than a giant mesa to explore we are brought to a glacier face, inside could be a Journey to the Center of the Earth inspired ride!
Or how about a reimagined Edison Square edition just off Main Street where we have a Mystic Manor style visit to Menlo Park?!

This guy is so frustrating. He writes great in-depth articles and then completely ruins it by shoehorning his tired opinion that everything new is awful at the end. This quote for example.....

"It’s the most recent in what’s become Disney’s new calling card: hastily and thoughtlessly stuffing hot intellectual properties into the parks, even at the expense of cannibalizing classics and decimating themed lands."

Wah wah wah

I rode both De La Terre a la Lune and Mission 2 countless times, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that Mission 2 blows De la terre out of the water on every level. Hyperspace Mountain will no doubt be incredible, by this guy wants to dump all over it before it has even begun because in his mind everything should stay the same as it always was - nothing should ever change or evolve. How boring.

It's annoying because he's clearly a good writer and his articles are informative and entertaining, but he feels he HAS to drive in his bored, polarising opinion at the end.

While I think you're right about the articles being too negative about anything new, saying that Mission 2 was better or even close to as good and consistent as De La Terre a la Lune is something I can not follow at all.

As the article states, it still was one of the best themed coasters ever, but it was completely lacking the soul and uniqueness of the original while also forming an odd contrast to it's exterior and the whole of discoveryland. I still hope it will return some day as the new trains still have that look to them. For me, the original Space Mountain Paris will always be the greatest roller coaster overall experience ever.

Great post! Even though I rode SM million times and already knew a lot I could learn some new stuff here. :)

I have a little golden nugget for you that either you did not know or were not mentioning intentionally. But anyway, there's a really great 3D modelled reincarnation of Space Mountain (or Discovery Mountain as even the then built ride should have been named, as far as I know?!): https://youtu.be/ttgSaGR5s90 Also check out his website http://www.noacco.net/immersarium/ where you can get a live 3D version of Space/Discovery Mountain where you can even move. I just love it. :)

The same guy did also 3D model Star Tours, check out his channel.

Thanks,
Max

Excellent article! I was among those who had hoped for a return to the original theming and was utterly disappointed when Hyperspace Mountain was announced. I consider myself lucky that I managed to ride Space Mountain in all its grandeur back in 1998 and I will keep hoping that someday De la Terre à la Lune will make a glorious comeback!

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