By Kevin Smithson
Previously I discussed, the Skyway and the Circlevision show, American The Beautiful. In addition, we discussed how quickly construction had to move along with Tomrrowland in general.
Delayed by its visual effects, “Flight to the moon” opened on December 24 1971. The signature attraction occupied the south eastern part of the building. The entire northern half was given to the Tomorrowland Terrace with its huge seating capacity. The attraction had a waiting area once again behind floor to ceiling windows and a three level preshow area overlooking a mission control room through large windows. A corridor then took guests to the main show area – in fact two identical show theatres. After the show, theatre two would exit directly onto the plaza again. Theatre one exited behind the north monolith and onto the plaza. The second attraction to début after opening day proved very popular. The main show was the attractions name; a flight to the moon. Rear projection screens in the floor and ceiling gave a ‘view’ in front and behind the space craft. Sub bass audio gave lift off a boost and every seat had cushions that filled with air.
Tomorrowland’s first Christmas came and went and construction continued on a strange addition. The southeast side of Tomorrowland was about to become very built up. The south annex would be extended for a new much needed attraction. The annex area had an entrance but nothing inside. Half of it also went down to basement level. With the expansion the area was earmarked for a ride through attraction – an attraction unique to Orlando but modeled off of ‘Adventures Through Inner Space’ in Anaheim. “If You Had Wings” opened June 5 1972 just in time to soak up some of the summer crowds. The attraction was sponsored by Walt Disney Worlds official airline the ride visited destinations served by Eastern Airlines. The attraction was the park’s second omnimover attraction and featured dozens of front and rear projections. The other part of the expansion opened mid 1973 – the Plaza Pavilion Restaurant. Though until 1980 it was listed under Main St USA not Tomorrowland.
By mid 1973 the future plans for Tomorrowland were finalized and construction began soon after. For nearly two years phase two would turn most of Tomorrowland into a building site. “Star Jets” opened November 28 1974. “Star Jets” was reached by a replica of a NASA launch tower via lifts to the top of the gantry. The actual jets themselves span around a tower inspired by the now famous Saturn V.
The view of the Contemporary was now obscured by a flying saucer looking building. The “Carousel of Progress” had made its move from the west coast and opened January 15 1975. For this third version, the show had some enhancements from Anaheim and its birth in New York. Animatronic technology had improved. The biggest change came in act 4 and WDW got a brand new finale scene. There was another major change – the theme song. With America’s growing optimism, they could achieve anything; it was no longer ‘wait for tomorrow,’ it was now ‘live for today.’ (Now is the time…now is the best time…)
“Carousel of Progress” opened on the same day as Tomorrowland’s signature ride. An attraction called Space Port had been in the design stages for almost a decade. In June 1966, the name changed to Space Mountain and WDW was to be its home. Regardless of the name, the idea was the same, an 8 track rollercoaster with inside and outside segments and a communications center post show by the rides sponsor. The idea was refined first to a 4 track coaster then a twin track. The sponsor, RCA would be feature in the preshow. Although now totally inside, the ride would also feature show scenes and a host of visual effects.
Space Mountain was originally to be built in the southeast corner of Tomorrowland. However, plans changed and the ride was moved outside of the Walt Disney World railroad track. This involved diverting a canal and partially filling in a lake. Now beyond the railroad track guests had to cross the tracks. A satellite building was built inside the park with tunnels under the tracks and to the ride itself. Originally, there were two queues – one for the ride and one for the RCA post show. The entry and exit tunnels were lined with pre and post show exhibits. The exit tunnel would lead guests directly out into Tomorrowland. There were actually four tunnels – two others were service and maintenance access tunnels. The entry tunnel climbs under the railroad, then crosses almost all the floor of the mountain. Entering guests arrive on an upper level, departing guests leave beneath them on the lower floor. The entry tunnel was originally designed as a speed ramp. Crowd control issues cancelled this. Instead a series of ramps and walkways were used. A ramped corridor passes under the railroad, and winds part
exhibits in the preshow area. The line then splits into two symmetrical areas for the two separate coaster tracks. Originally part of the post show queue, guests not wishing to ride could take ramps downward. On the lower level they join guests unloading from the ride, and join a central exit corridor. The exit is via speed ramp and at 238 feet is the longest in WDW. A series of post show scenes showed RCAs ‘home of future living.’ The coaster itself is a complex, interweaved network of track and supports. The complexity is duplicated in symmetry. Alpha side has 10 feet more track than Omega.
Construction of the building began with raising the main roof section then its four main supports. The outer wall supports were built and pre-stressed concrete beams lifted between the two. The railroad was closed whilst the four tunnels were built in trenches, then covered over.
Each of the 72 beams weigh 74 tons and were 117 feet long. Their width changed from 13 feet to 4 feet. The mountain is 183 feet high, goes 15 feet underground, is 300 feet in diameter and covers 10 acres. Space Mountain was the first rollercoaster to be designed with the aid of a computer and the first to have its 3,186 feet and 3,196 feet of track computer controlled. Along with the “Carousel of Progress,” “Space Mountain” opened January 15 1975.
Part III will continue here soon!