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Behind the Ride: Spaceship Earth

The Experience: Building a geodesic dome

The Trick: Breaking one big thing into 11,324 little pieces

Of course, all of these comments are theoretical. Building the geodesic dome is where the real work happened. Spaceship Earth was a 26-month project that required six pylons buried between 120 and 185 feet into the ground to secure the foundation plus 1,700 tons of steel for dome itself. The outer surface of the structure is roughly 150,000 square feet, and the panels of it are known as alucobond. Disney uses this substance due to its mirroring effects. Alucobond shows guests below during the day and accentuates the sparkling lights of other park elements at night.

Spaceship Earth has 11,324 alucobond-based panels that give the building both its ability to support heavy weights and its novel appearance. These panels are also nearly indestructible and weather-resistant, both of which are important traits in hurricane-prone Central Florida. Spaceship Earth was by no means the first geodesic dome but even 35+ years after its creation, it remains the most famous one.

The Experience: Displaying seminal moments in history via elegant set pieces

The Trick: Using lifelike Audio-Animatronics to recreate history

The most important parts of Spaceship Earth the attraction are the set pieces. Yes, this statement is true of many Disney attractions, as Walt Disney taught his team to build rides the same way that they illustrated movies. Most attractions compartmentalize cleanly into distinct phases. It’s particularly true of Spaceship Earth, though.

Since the space is so large (its dimensions are 50 meters by 55 meters with 2.2 million cubic feet in volume), these set pieces are among the biggest ever made for a Disney attraction. They must demonstrate grandeur in scale, particularly where the ball is at its widest. The wall projections for two of the scenes are done by necessity inasmuch as out of inspiration.

When Disney cannot project wooly mammoths or images of Earth from above, they use Audio-Animatronics (AAs) as lifelike recreations of important historical figures. Spaceship Earth features more than 50 of these robotic humans to tell several stories. Guests have developed favorites over the years such as the computer lab technician, the printing press owner, and the ancient teachers. Each one highlights an amazing set piece that tells a story with little to no dialogue. The accessories in each section disseminate the information.

Sometimes, Disney even repurposes existing AAs. Riders who pay careful attention will note that some of the AAs bear a striking resemblance to American presidents! It’s not your imagination. Disney has transferred a few AAs from Hall of Presidents to populate some of the scenes in inexpensive fashion. Teddy Roosevelt, John Adams, and Andrew Jackson are on display. When they’re not playing presidents, they’re a Roman Senator, a writing monk, and a Gutenberg printer worker.

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There is 1 comment.

Nice article, but a few factual misses. The first narrator wasn't Vic Perrin, as confirmed by Marty Sklar in a 2008 interview, but was Lawrence Dobkin. Also, it says Jeremy Irons took over in 1984 but that's incorrect and likely a typo as it was 1994.

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