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Horizons: Predecessor to Mission: SPACE
Mission: SPACE is a motion simulator ride that uses centripetal force to simulate the G-forces of a rocket blast-off followed by a trip to Mars. The pavilion/attraction opened October 9, 2003 on the same plot of land that had five years before housed the attraction Horizons. So our history lesson starts with Horizons. Horizons was the name of a dark ride attraction at Epcot that used Disney's Omnimover conveyance system, to take guests past show scenes depicting visions of the future. It is believed to be the sequel to Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress.
Horizons was the only attraction in "Future World" to showcase all of Epcot's "Future World" elements: communication, community interaction, energy, transportation, anatomy, physiology, along with man's relationship to the sea, land, air, and space. The attraction officially opened on October 1, 1983, as part of Phase II of Epcot. Horizons originally closed in 1994 after General Electric ended sponsorship of the attraction. It was temporarily reopened in 1995 due to the closure of other attractions for refurbishment in "Future World." The attraction permanently closed on January 9, 1999.
The Attraction began with a section titled "Looking Back at Tomorrow," showcasing visions of the future as perceived from the era of Jules Verne through the 1950s. The ride then moved past two immense OMNIMAX screens (groundbreaking technology at the time the ride was built), showing modern technologies and ideas that could be used to build the world of tomorrow. Afterward came the main part of the ride: visions of futuristic life in cities, deserts, undersea, and even in space. The only Disney attraction with multiple endings, Horizons then allowed riders to select which path they wanted to take back to the FuturePort: from the space station Brava Centauri (depicting space colonization), from the desert farm of Mesa Verde (depicting arid-zone agriculture), or from the Sea Castle research base (depicting ocean colonization).
As the final part of the ride, guests in would push a button in their omnimover to select between the three types of future living which triggered a 30 second video about their selection. The videos showed a simulated flyover of an outdoor scene. To create the effect, scale models were built and a camera swept across the futuristic terrain. The models were some of the largest ever created at the time. Horizons, in its concept phase, was named Century 3 (or Century III), to recognize the third century of American existence (1776-2076). The name was changed to Futureprobe to help appeal the attraction toward international guests who wouldn't understand or appreciate Century 3. In the end, the Futureprobe name was scrapped due to the medical connotation of the word "probe". After much debate, GE and Disney officials settled on the name Horizons. Prior to the start of construction, the project's budget was slashed by $10 million (USD). The building size was reduced and the length of the ride was shrunk by 35%, shortening the ride length by 600 feet. Horizons opened exactly one year after Epcot opened and was located between World of Motion and the Universe of Energy. The Wonders of Life pavilion became Horizons' new neighbor in 1989, and World of Motion closed in 1996. Horizons remained operational until World of Motion's successor, Test Track, was ready to open to the public in early 1999.
It was proposed that Horizons would be the sequel to the Carousel of Progress (located in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom), Disney's ride from the General Electric Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair. As the Carousel of Progress followed the changes in lifestyle that faced a family as they lived through the 20th century, Horizons continued their story, showing how they might live in the 21st century. The Carousel's theme song "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" was part of the Looking Back at Tomorrow portion of Horizons. The version of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" that could be heard in Horizons coming from a television in the Art Deco scene is the exact version that can still be heard on a radio during the first act of the present Carousel of Progress.
The original ride concept came from Reginald Jones (then CEO of GE) and Jack Welch (future CEO of GE). The concept was to focus on Thomas Edison and his body of work along with the origin of General Electric; it was changed to focus on the future of America, a theme that changed yet again to respect that Epcot was to appeal to a global audience. The building which housed Horizons was designed to resemble a spaceship, while accentuating the third dimension and giving the impression of an infinite horizon.
During the early 90s, after GE had dropped sponsorship, some ideas were tossed around about the pavilion being turned into a space-themed pavilion. The building would have been upgraded and rethemed. The ride system would be changed drastically, to one where a guest would be in an individual space harness while viewing space stations and space in general and would control the pitch and yaw of the vehicle.
On January 9, 1999, Horizons closed permanently. No reason was publicly given, but the lack of corporate sponsorship probably played a large part in the decision. It is also claimed that one of the reasons for the attraction closing was major structural problems (specifically a large sink-hole underneath the structure which emerged in 1998), along with problems with the roof. The building was claimed to have been close due to the fact that it was collapsing under its own weight.
The building stood unoccupied for well over a year as Disney decided between either relaunching the attraction (which would have required a new storyline and major building renovation and upgrades) or demolishing the building and creating a new attraction in its place. It was decided to build a new cutting-edge outer space-themed attraction, so the Horizons building was slowly torn down in July 2000. The demolition of the building marked the first time in Disney history that an entire ride building had to be demolished in preparation for a new attraction. Construction on Mission: SPACE began in late 2000 and the new attraction opened in 2003.
Pics: Horizons Omnimover and show scenes.
Mission: SPACE is--as mentioned above--a motion simulator thrill ride. It simulates what an astronaut might experience aboard a spacecraft on a mission to Mars, from the high G-Forces of a blastoff to the speculative hypersleep. Industry estimates put the cost of developing the new attraction at US$100 million. Mission: SPACE is meant to simulate astronaut training for the first manned mission to Mars aboard the fictional X-2 Deep Space Shuttle in 2036, the seventy-fifth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space. (The year 2036 can be deduced from plaques in the attraction's queue celebrating 75 years of human spaceflight, including two faux milestones in the future.) Riders are "trainees" at the fictional International Space Training Center (ISTC), where they are arranged into crews of four before watching an introductory video featuring actor Gary Sinise.
Before boarding the simulators, each rider is assigned an on-board role (navigator, pilot, commander or engineer) and given two tasks to perform during the mission (pressing a specific button when told). For example, one of the commander's buttons initiates the rocket's first-stage separation, and the other activates manual flight control. The spacecraft's on-board self-automated pilot will perform each task if the rider does not respond to his or her prompt from Mission Control or if there is no one to perform the task. Also featured are various labeled buttons and switches which the rider may play with but do nothing; they are only there to add to the realism aspect of the ride.
The mission includes liftoff from the ISTC, a slingshot around the moon for a gravity-assisted boost, a brief period of simulated hypersleep (to pass the lengthy time required to reach Mars) and a descent for landing on the Martian surface. As a training exercise, the mission contains several unexpected situations that add to the drama.
The futuristic X-2 'ride' vehicle is a three-stage rocket which is said to use several technologies in development today, including aerospike engines, solid hydrogen fuel, an aerobrake and carbon nanotubes.
The attraction queue contains several items and commemorative plaques from past, present and fictional future space missions. Among the items on display are props from the 2000 film Mission to Mars, including the rotating "gravity wheel" from the predecessor X-1 spacecraft, a model of which hangs from the ceiling, and a replica of a NASA moon rover from the Apollo program.
The attraction post-show--which can be accessed by non-riders by going in the pavilion exit doors--includes a space themed, indoor playground for the kids, and a team space-game set up to handle several players.
Initially Mission: Space was sponsored by Compaq, which began working with Disney Imagineers on the design in April 2000. Hewlett-Packard assumed the sponsorship upon its merger with Compaq in 2002. Like other Epcot pavilions the sponsor, HP, has a private VIP lounge--available only to HP employees--known as The Red Planet Room. The Red Planet Room can be found to the left of the main ride entrance (behind cast members handing out green/orange passes- they can direct you) and is marked with a small sign with the HP logo. Once an HP employee shows their badge, they are lead into a small room, then up a staircase into The Red Planet room. Inside The Red Planet room, HP employees or other VIP's can enjoy a cool air-conditioned space (with limited seating), free drinks (soda, tea, coffee), an Internet connection (shared laptop), and some games (a tilting maze and Postcards from Mars). There is a private restroom, as well as a television.
Pics: Top--HP's Red Planet Room, employee suite. Bottom: Postshow game.
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