Space Mountain is an indoor, outer-space themed roller coaster that has versions at five Disney parks. As an innovative use of dark-ride technology, the coaster allowed designers to place the riders in a completely immersive environment. Disney World’s Space Mountain was the first indoor coaster in the world, and the first to take place in a mostly dark environment. Since opening, the various versions of the ride have been consistently popular with Disney park guests.
The thriving American space program of the 1960s inspired Disney officials to create a roller coaster that would simulate a space flight for Disney World in Florida. Early designs for the ride resembled popular Disney Matterhorn Bobsleds, with tracks running both inside and outside the ride. Eventually, a mountain-like design that was originally intended to be a space port was selected for the ride. In 1975, the Disney World Space Mountain opened, and proved immediately popular. Plans for a West Coast version quickly followed, and Space Mountain opened at Disneyland in 1977.
Although all versions of the ride are essentially similar in design and look, each has unique qualities. The Disney World Space Mountain features a unique post-show that incorporates a moving walkway. The Tokyo Disneyland version was originally identical to the California version, but recent updates have included a total redesign of the queue area. The Paris Disneyland version, called Space Mountain: Mission 2 is the most unusual, featuring a completely different mountain-design, and corkscrew and loop components.
Inside each version of the ride, guests sit in ride cars that carry them from a loading area to the main part of the ride. Once out of the loading area, guests are completely surrounded by projected outer-space images. Each ride car features an on-board speaker system, called a Synchronized On-Board Audio System (SOBAT) that pumps music and sound effects into the car. The roller coaster rockets through a downward spiraling track, with most versions including a place near the end of the ride where a photograph is taken. Guests may view the photos after exiting the ride.
Recent experiments by Disney designers have resulted in temporary overlay projections on the ride. At California’s Disneyland, Space Mountain was temporarily turned into Rockin’ Space Mountain, featuring new visual effects and a soundtrack by rock band The Red Hot Chili Peppers. At Hong Kong Disneyland, a similar transformation was done for the Halloween season of 2007, replacing the space atmosphere with a holiday theme. Both experiments met with mixed reactions from guests, and many Disney enthusiasts expressed relief when the rides were returned to their usual themes.
Space Mountain appears to travel at extremely high speeds, but most versions never get above 30 miles per hour (48 kph.) The interior darkness of the ride combined with the subconscious suggestions of increasing music tempo and speeding light displays can cause riders to feel they are traveling much faster than they truly are. However, this ride is not recommended for young children, as it can be frightening to some.
If you are visiting any of the Disney parks that contain the ride, park experts recommend riding it early in the day. In most parks, the ride remains consistently popular and late-day lines can last as long as 90 minutes. As with any thrill ride, people with neck or back injuries, pregnant women, or people with heart problems should consult a doctor before riding. If you are given the all-clear by a physician, hop on board, fasten your seat-belt and hang on to your Mickey Mouse ears for a wild ride through space.