Walt Disney World
Universe of Energy
Wonders of Life
Walt Disney--The Man
Trip Planning Tips
U.S. Pavilion from Expo '67
The 18-story geodesic sphere at the head of Epcot theme park houses a ride that is also called Spaceship Earth, where guests experience a trip through time using the Omnimover system. The ride shows guests how advancements in human communication have helped to create the future one step at a time. The attraction involves a timeline from the origins of prehistoric man to the dawn of the 21st century, where guests can then create a future for themselves.
The structure was designed with the help of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who also helped write the original storyline for the attraction.
The term 'Spaceship Earth' was coined by Buckminster Fuller, who also developed the structural mathematics of the geodesic dome.
The structure is similar in texture to the United States pavilion from Expo 67 in Montreal, but unlike that structure, Spaceship Earth is a complete sphere, supported on legs. The structure's exterior is comparable to that of a large golf ball. (below)
Geometrically, Spaceship Earth is a derivative of a pentakis dodecahedron, with each of the 60 isosceles triangle faces divided into 16 smaller equilateral triangles (with a bit of fudging to make it rounder). Each of those 960 flat panels is sub-divided into four triangles, each of which is divided into three isosceles triangles to form each point. In theory, there are 11,520 total isosceles triangles forming 3840 points. In reality, some of those triangles are partially or fully nonexistent due to supports and doors; there are actually only 11,324 of them, with 954 partial or full flat panels.
The appearance of being a monolithic sphere is an architectural goal that was achieved through a structural trick. Spaceship Earth's is in fact two structural domes. Six legs are supported on pile groups that are driven up to 160 feet into Central Florida's soft earth. Those legs support a steel box-shaped ring at the sphere's perimeter, at about 30 degrees south latitude in earth-terms. The upper structural dome sits on this ring. A grid of trusses inside the ring supports the two helical structures of the ride and show system. Below the ring, a second dome is hung from the bottom, completing the spherical shape. The ring and trusses form a table-like structure which separates the upper dome from the lower. Supported by and about three feet off of the structural domes is a cladding sphere to which the shiny Alucobond panels and drainage system are mounted.
The cladding was designed so that when it rains, no water pours off the sides onto the ground. (All water is "absorbed" through one inch gaps in the facets and is collected in a gutter system - and finally channeled into the World Showcase Lagoon.)
As with many WDW attractions, Spaceship Earth has had sponsors. All 3 have been communications companies, which fit the the 'communication and collaboration through time' theme of the ride. The first sponsor was Bell Systems (1982-1984), and then it changed to AT&T (1984-2004) with the break up off the 'Bell's' in the '80's, and Siemens AG (2005-present) picked up sponsorship. With each change of sponsor (plus once in 1994) the ride has been renovated, slightly updated, and received new narration and music.
Construction took 26 months and 40,800 labor hours to build. Extending upwards from the table are "quadropod" structures which support the smaller beams which form the actual shell of the steel skeleton. Pipes stand the aluminum skin panels away from the skeleton and provide space for utilities. A small service car is parked in the interstitial between the structural and cladding surfaces, and can carry a prone technician down the sides to access repair locations. The shop fabrication of the steel (done in nearby Tampa, Florida) was an early instance of computer aided drafting and materials processing.
Pics include: Construction, Structural Support, Ride Entrance, Ride Scenes from Ancient Greece through to the Invention of the Internet.
Next: Universe of Energy