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It's a Small Solar System After All

Mission: SPACE at Epcot, Walt Disney World, Florida

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Mission: SPACE Epcot photo

The entrance to Mission: SPACE is very sleek.

© Arthur Levine. Licensed to About.com.
From the start, the Disney theme parks have married technology and storytelling to whisk guests away to fantastic places. And from the early Disneyland days on, the Imagineers that design the attractions have been on a quest to whisk us away into the far regions of space. They've had varying degrees of success, from the impressive flight simulator-powered Star Tours to the ridiculous vibrating seats of (the decommissioned) Mission to Mars. Now, Disney Imagineers have aspired to the sublime; Mission: SPACE is a groundbreaking, awe-inspiring attraction that delivers sensations unlike any you have ever felt (unless you're an astronaut) and replicates space travel with an astonishing degree of reality. It figuratively--and literally-- takes your breath away.

Mission: SPACE at a glance

  • About Guide Rating (0=Yich!, 10=Wow!): 9
  • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 7.5
    The sustained G-forces can be unnerving; the simulated liftoff and flight is very realistic; the capsule is quite confining.
  • Attraction Type: Motion simulator using centrifuge technology
  • Height Requirements: 44 inches
  • Tips: Use Fastpass for this popular attraction. Also consider using the single-rider line for faster boarding.

    If you are prone to motion sickness, consider taking Dramamine.

    If you think Dramamine won't do the trick, or you're just too freaked-out to even consider riding in a centrifuge (although you should buck it up and give it a whirl if you're on the line), Mission: SPACE does offer some non-spinning pods. The effect isn't nearly as wild, but you'll at least get a sense of the attraction.

Spaced-Out Story

If Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion represent the epitome of classic Disney theme park attractions, Mission: SPACE is their new-age successor. It transports guests to an alternate reality for a captivating, magical experience. From the moment you see the sleek facade with its metallic hues, curved lines, and the planetary orbs that line its courtyard, you're swept into the immersive attraction and its promise to launch you into orbit.

Here's the story: You've arrived at the International Space Training Center (ISTC) in the year 2036 (apparently, NASA and Russia's Aerospace Agency will merge in the not-too-distant future), and deep-space flight has become commonplace. Your mission is to join a team of fellow trainees, and learn how to pilot a spacecraft to Mars.

The storytelling gets a bit muddled. Most of the time Mission: SPACE reinforces the theme that guests are recruits preparing for an earthbound training exercise; occasionally, the attraction seems to imply that trainees will actually launch into space and travel to Mars. I guess the explanation for the lapse in continuity could be that ISTC's training program wants to make the experience as realistic as possible.

Big Bucks? Roger.

At the entrance to the attraction, guests can choose the standby, single-rider, or Fastpass queues. Mission: SPACE is one of the first attractions expressly designed to accommodate Disney's line management options. If guests are riding alone, or if they're willing to break up their parties, the single-rider queue can significantly reduce the wait time at the popular attraction.

Just inside the entrance, a model of the XT training capsule shows guests what's in store. Around the corner in the Space Simulation Lab, an enormous gravity wheel slowly spins. Evoking 2001: A Space Odyssey, the wheel includes a dining galley, sleeping quarters, an exercise room, and other areas to help trainees adjust to a weightless environment. The sheer scale of the structure shows the lavish budget (estimated at $100 million) Disney showered on the landmark Mission: SPACE. Other set pieces in the lab include an actual Lunar Rover courtesy of the Smithsonian.

The queue winds past a mission control-like operations room and into the dispatch area. Guests break into teams of four and proceed to the ready room. Here, they receive their assigned roles and learn about the training flight from the capsule communicator (Capcom). Hey, it's none other than Forrest Gump's Lt. Dan! (Aka actor Gary Sinise, who also appeared in--whaddya know?--the film, Mission to Mars.)

From the ready room, the recruits, now designated as commanders, pilots, navigators, and engineers, continue to the pre-flight corridor. After some additional instructions, the hallway doors open and it's time to board the X-2 training capsules.

Disney has made no attempt to hide the technology behind the magic. While climbing into and leaving the capsules, guests can plainly see the large centrifuge in the middle of the room and the ten capsule pods arranged around it. There are four of these ride bays in the Mission: SPACE complex. The lack of pretense plays into the story; Imagineers based the centrifuge and simulators on actual NASA training methods.

G-Whiz

Once cleared for liftoff, the capsule tilts back. Crewmembers see the launch platform through the pod's windows (actually high-definition flat-screen LCD monitors), the countdown commences, and--yeow!--the capsule rumbles, the G-Forces create an odd and giddy sensation, and it's up, up, and away. It's an astounding illusion. Even though you know the cabin is spinning around and tethered to the ground, everything is conspiring to convince you that it is moving towards the heavens.

Pinning guests to the seats, the liftoff's powerful positive Gs decrease as the capsule "slingshots" around the moon to accelerate towards Mars. At various junctures, the crewmembers receive instructions from Capcom to perform their specific duties, and the capsule responds convincingly to their interactive input.

At one point, Capcom informs crewmembers that they've reached 0Gs, or weightlessness. I believe the centrifuge slows or stops spinning. While the capsule and its occupants are actually experiencing the earth's normal gravitational force of 1G, the sudden drop from sustained higher G-Forces tricks the body into feeling a twinge of hang time--or, at least that's my theory.

Inevitable theme park attraction calamities ensue. Before arriving at Mars, the crew must fend off an asteroid field. And a safe landing goes horribly wrong when the ground beneath the capsule crumbles. Crewmembers must use their manual joystick controllers to navigate through some gut-wrenching maneuvers.

Speaking of gut wrenching, Disney has gone to great lengths throughout the queue to warn guests prone to motion sickness or sensitive to spinning and motion simulators that Mission: SPACE may not be for them. Is it for you? Only you can decide, but it is a breakthrough attraction with an experience unlike anything you've ever encountered. If you're on the line, you may want to consider popping a Dramamine to give it a whirl.

Next page: Whirl and hurl? Will you be able to handle Mission: SPACE?

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