A closer look at Mission:Space
Welcome back to Not Club 33, the new home of Cynical Disney!
Today we’re doing a deep dive on Epcot, and it dawned on me that technically I’ve been alternating between Future World and World Showcase, so back to a Future World attraction. Today, let’s cover my favorite attraction at the whole of Disney World…Mission: Space! FYI, this one is going to be a long one, because I love this ride I get into some nitty gritty details which not one person brought up in the design of this ride.
Mission: Space replaced the beloved Horizons, an attraction which was conceptually a sequel to but ultimately more boring than Carousel of Progress. Horizons finally was taken out back and shot in 1999, and for the next few years Disney worked with NASA to craft a spaceflight simulator, giving Epcot its third-ever thrill ride, which to this day Epcot still sorely lacks an amount of. It officially opened in June 2003 to great fanfare, the grand opening being attended by Disney and NASA luminaries, as well as former astronauts from all major phases of NASA’s manned spaceflight history. Former astronauts have raved about it being a somewhat realistic experience.
As it turns out though, common folk aren’t meant to be astronauts, and Disney finally realized that its guests did not have the “right stuff” after two people died from pre-existing conditions exacerbated by the ride. So, in 2005, Disney took a couple of the centrifuges offline and offered the “Green” version of the ride for guests who were prone to motion sickness or had some sort of heart condition. Mission: Space closed yet again over the peak summer months of 2017, just in time for me to go on my honeymoon [:(] , and reopened a month after I left for me to not be able to experience first hand an updated version of the ride.
Before entering the ride building, guests must make the most difficult choice since the Goosebumps Choose Your Path books in the early 90’s and pick which version of the ride they wish to experience: the castrated version (Green) or the manly (Orange) version. Upon choosing, you receive a ticket to get on that version so there aren’t any people trying to hop from the often shorter line of the Green mission to the slightly more popular Orange version. The queue always fills me with a sense of wonder. Not just in terms of “wow….space stuff”, but also in terms of “I wonder if the washing machine did its job to get rid of anything that might show up on a black light?”. The queue winds around some rather immersive details, including a fake model of the rocket you’ll be flying in as well as a giant (usually) spinning wheel that one might use in space to create artificial gravity. Fun fact, this was actually a prop from the movie Mission to Mars starring Ocean’s 11’s Don Chedle and Lt. Dan of Forrest Gump fame.
The walls are adorned with plaques commemorating both real and fictional milestones and events in spaceflight, such as Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, and some random generic family from a Walmart picture frame that Disney clearly Photoshopped astronaut gear on for some future “first family in space” plaque. Upon the end of these plaques, cast members collect the tickets for which version of the ride riders intend to get on, and it’s your last chance to chicken out before being “shuttled” (see what I did there?) into queue rooms where a presentation takes place, and thankfully it’s not one of those timeshare deals.
*Editors note: I’ve only experienced firsthand the Orange version of the ride, and have not been since the update in August 2017. Therefore, I will go with what I know.
Lt. Dan (who apparently was promoted to Commander and therefore replaced by Gina Torres, whom you’ll probably recognize as that one woman from that one show once you do a google search on her) comes on screen to show stock footage and b roll of astronauts training like that montage in The Right Stuff, but making sure they show a diverse group of people lest we all think that only certain races and genders are qualified to be strapped to a controlled explosion and sent miles into orbit. The formerly Lt. Dan then lets you know that you’ll be organized into teams, and directs you to the appropriate bay based on the number you happen to be standing on.
After proceeding to the appropriate bay, you’re then given your arbitrary crew assignments, the more prestigious of which are on the inner side of the spacecraft: Navigator, Pilot, Commander, and Engineer. No one really wants to be the Engineer. Have you seen Star Trek? I don’t want Scotty’s problems. Each crew member is supposed to press two buttons during your mission, which you don’t actually have to press, but it gives riders something to do other than sit back and enjoy the ride. Lt. Dan explains what your tasks are and gives you one final pep talk before the lights go back down and epic music comes on in the background.
After a simulated “fueling” (or waiting for the previous session to end), the doors swing open and you’re led by a cast member to your capsule. Pull down on the shoulder harness and start pressing buttons like a child! I always do. I’ve watched enough space movies and documentaries to have the general gist of what each button does, but also some buttons light up certain lights when pushed and the inner child in me just goes bonkers. The door to your capsule closes and the screens lurch forward. The ride vehicle leans back and you’re “go for launch”.
This is what the real life astronauts described as the most real, the rumble and shake of the vehicle and then the subsequent minor g-forces felt as the centrifuge spins and you feel like you’re being launched into space. The centrifuge stops its motorized spinning and the subsequent lack of minor g-forces make you feel weightless, which for a man of my stature is no small miracle. Your rocket then inexplicably flies SUPER close to the International Space Station (something which would never happen) and you’re catapulted around the moon at what is apparently the Disney equivalent to “Ludicrous Speed” from Space Balls, because it takes a solid two days to get to the moon with our fastest rocket of today and this journey takes a matter of seconds, suggesting perhaps that the fictional ISTC must have warp engines on this damn thing. Then, inexplicably if you have warp speed, you’re put into cryosleep…ok, here we go….
I’m going to dip my toe back into the physics pool here. If the journey to the moon takes approximately 10 seconds (it may be shorter, but I’m calling it 10 seconds for the sake of argument), you’re travelling at a speed of approximately 90,000,000 mph. The distance to Moon from Earth is approximately 250,000 miles. Here’s my math:
250,000 mi/10 sec = 25,000 x 60 sec = 1,500,000 x 60 min = 90,000,000 MPH
Setting aside the fact that the g-forces created by such a speed would not be practical (and would squish riders like a bug) and the fact that no such engine currently exists or is on the horizon of existing, accelerating to 90,000,000 mph would not offer any resistance in space because there’s no air to slow you down. Mars, at its closest point to Earth and therefore the most logical time to launch such a mission, is 33.9 million miles away.
34,000,000 mi/90,000,000 mph = .377777778 hrs x 60 min = 22.6666667 min
Therefore, at that speed without slowing down, it would take approximately 20 minutes to get to Mars. Hell, it’d take just over an hour to get to the sun. There’s no need for a 20 minute nap. Even if you went when Mars was literally the furthest away from Earth, the least logical time to launch a mission to Mars, the distance between the two points in space is 250 million miles, or just under 3 hours away. The speed of light, for reference, is approximately 670,616,629 mph. That has no bearing on my math, but it’s just a fun fact. Bottom line, you don’t need cryogenics to get you to Mars at that speed.
After your needless months long nap (according to the story but not supported by math), you’re awoken to your spacecraft floating in the midst of a meteor shower, and it’s more like a scene from Star Wars than reality. Meteor showers are easily avoidable and detectable with today’s technology, and ISTC would absolutely have woken us up WAY before this ridiculous meteor shower became a thing that you’d have to be Han Bro-lo to get through. But of course, you miraculously get around these meteors and it’s time for us to begin entry interface to Mars.
One can’t simply land on the Martian polar ice cap easily though, you have to manually fly through a canyon to get to the landing site, with all four people inexplicably needing to control the spacecraft (because it works so well when multiple people try to drive a car), then upon your landing you realize that the landing strip is covered in ice and skid past the end of the runway all the way to a cliffs edge. After hanging over the cliff at an impossible angle to recover from without also falling over it, the ship miraculously rights itself and you’ve made a successful landing. They gloss over the fact that you’d probably have to climb on top of the rocket and walk back to the landing site, and then the rocket would inevitably tip over like those RV’s in The Lost World. But, Lt. Dan, ever the optimist at this point, gives you a thumbs up and we then exit the vehicle.
After disembarking the capsule, you have to traverse a series of hallways with some Armageddon-like theme song playing in the background, where you enter into a playground of sorts for the kids who are unable to ride the ride but still want to have a space-y experience (but not Kevin Spacey…that has no place on WDW property as far as I’m concerned). We then enter the gift shop, where one can purchase the helmet hat you saw me wear in one of the above pictures, as well as other NASA paraphernalia, light sabers and other Star Wars BLEEP (lest we forget that franchise also is set in space), and my favorite, freeze dried ice cream!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Mission: Space is by far my favorite theme park attraction. Nothing else even comes close in my opinion. The story certainly has some logical fallacies and scientific errors that shouldn’t be overlooked, but the experience is unique at Disney World in that no other ride gives you the same sensations. Aside from the Kennedy Space Center, I’m unaware of any flight simulator that is anything like Mission: Space.
It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been a “space-nut” since I was a child. I had to take a government budgeting class in college, where we had to make up our own government program. Though I have a Libertarian objection to the need of any additional governmental program, I still needed to pass, so I came up with what I dubbed the “Idiots in Space” program, rationalizing that if we’re ever going to colonize other planets (like Mars), you’re going to need plumbers and farmers and vocations which don’t require a degree from Georgia Tech and MIT.
The future of Mission: Space is looking slightly brighter than I thought it would be a couple of years ago. Though I ride the attraction 4-5 times every trip, I’ve been able to do so because the wait times are usually around 25 minutes for the Orange version, which is extremely short compared to the other E-Ticket attractions in Soarin’ and Test Track. Now Disney has updated the attraction to include a completely different Green version, so riders can drift in Earth orbit and see stuff like the Hawaiian Islands and Italy. Also, at D23 this year, Disney announced that there will be a space themed restaurant attached to the building where diners will have the opportunity to gaze upon the heavens as they consume some space favorites. Hopefully they’ll offer the freeze dried ice cream for dessert and have some sort of Tang mixed drink on the menu as well.
If you made it all the way through to the end, I congratulate you! This might be my longest post yet, but I couldn’t let the factual errors of this ride go, and I love this attraction so much that I had to give it the proper Cynical Disney treatment. Until next time…
-The Disney Cynic
“I’m all beers!”