Widen Your World – Space Mountain

Space Mountain
1975 – present
RCA’s Home of Future Living
1975 – 1985

     If you grew up with WDW and have visited the Magic Kingdom hundreds of times, you might sometimes glance at Space Mountain and overlook how cool it is and, more pointedly, periodically forget how amazingly cool it was during its first ten years.  This “towering symbol of the space age,” as Jack Wagner referred to it on the WEDway Peoplemover’s original narration, is not only a physically impressive structure but also a testament to Walt Disney Productions’ commitment to the further development of the Magic Kingdom only a few short years after the park opened.  The ride has since captivated or terrified millions of volunteer astronauts, most of whom now enjoy the ride for what it is today and have no particular interest in how it used to be.  This page is for the minority riders.    

     The attraction concept dates to 1965, when designer John Hench pitched an idea for a Space Port indoor / outdoor thrill ride – basically the Matterhorn bobsleds in (and on) a cone – that would be introduced to Disneyland when its Tomorrowland area was rebuilt in 1967.  The California version was waylaid and plans for the first Space Port were woven into WDW’s Phase I concepts.  Even then it had to wait until after the park’s October 1971 opening, although original Magic Kingdom blueprints and models accurately marked its eventual site.  In 1973, construction began on the second half of WDW’s Tomorrowland, with a renamed Space Mountain figuring largely into the landscape and RCA on board as the sponsor.  By then the outdoor component of the ride had been wisely eliminated, making this the world’s first all-indoor roller coaster.  Three cheers for WED Enterprises on that one.*  

     That indoor aspect and its size would have been enough, honestly, to make Space Mountain a remarkable accomplishment.  But WED went a step further by placing the ride’s Load and Unload platforms at the opposite end of the cone from the attraction’s entrance.  That decision provided them with a nice long stretch of queue inside the building, just below the ride track, where guests could be acclimated to a world unto itself and stare out on the vastness of space through a series of inventively staged display windows.  It also gave WED and RCA a blank canvas with which to pitch the latter’s products in front of thousands of exiting guests every day in a presentation called the Home of Future Living.  So WDW’s Space Mountain was comprised of these three distinct areas: the pre-show corridor displays, the ride itself and the post-show Speedramp presentations.  Beyond the basics of the ride experience, nearly everything else within the attraction now looks and sounds very different than it did between 1975 and 1985.  Guess what?  None of it is an improvement.

     One fundamental difference is that Magic Kingdom guests were once encouraged to visit the attraction even if they weren’t going to board the ride; those who had no interest in (or last-minute reservations about) a rocket race could still take in everything up to and after the roller coaster and still leave Space Mountain feeling that they had experienced something memorable – a result of the extensive creative details poured into the entrance and exit areas – without even giving up an E ticket.

     The pre- and post-show exhibits of the attraction’s first ten years constituted a much more unified, uplifting and campy presentation than those that have followed.  Years before colonists ever set foot on RYCA-1, and back when the notion of “futuristic” FedEx packages littering the attraction was unthinkable, Space Mountain was an undeniably brighter experience than it is today.  No doubt the time period in which the initial attraction was planned played a role in this.  Coming on the heels of the US energy crisis in 1973, plus a slump in tourism precipitated by that event, optimism was much in demand.  But this bright tone was also largely attributable to RCA, whose slogan during much of this period was “a tradition on the move,” and their massive free-spirited involvement with the attraction.  They had almost as great a presence within the ride as FedEx did in 1993, and that’s fairly incredible.


     Back in “the day,” everyone’s** Space Mountain experience began with their first sight of the huge white (it used to be clean) cone that looms over Tomorrowland like Mount Fuji hovers above Tokyo.  Whether it was from the monorail, ferryboat or on foot, the sight was ultimately unavoidable.  At the base of the attraction was the one-story entrance building that was preceded by a 153 foot tall white pylon atop which were three backlit red RCA logos.  Further down the tower, one of the original four-seat ride vehicles (rocket jets) was suspended on a long, white twisting tube. Inside the jet, two adult and two child-size astronauts sat frozen in a state of prolonged excitement.

     Below the pylon, in the planter, was the attraction’s dedication plaque.  It read: “ONE GIANT STEP… Dedicated to the men and women whose skills, sacrifice, courage and teamwork opened the door to the exploration of man’s exciting new frontier…outer space.  Because they dared to reach for the stars and the planets, man’s knowledge of his universe, earth and himself has been greatly enriched. Presented by missile, space and range pioneers. January 15, 1975.

     With that parting glance toward the facts of space exploration, guests passed through the entrance portal and left reality behind. They would now meet Disney’s and RCA’s combined vision of space, which was a little less somber and a lot more fun.  

     Just inside the building, guests stepped onto the descending entrance ramp.  For several years they were greeted at this point by the sight of RCA’s fox terrier mascot, Nipper, sitting in a flying saucer in the middle of the room. Beneath the saucer’s bubble dome, Nipper’s head was cocked toward his ever-present phonograph. As guests passed further along into the narrow entrance corridor, they heard the jubilant strains of  RCA’s Space Mountain theme song, “Here’s To The Future And You,” blaring from overhead speakers.



Hear the instrumental version of the RCA song
mp3 file, 2.4mb, 1:58





     Along the right-hand side of this first descending tunnel, the Star Corridor, were a series of static, space-themed displays behind convex windows.  One scene portrayed an astronaut riding a moon buggy across a lunar surface, another a satellite transmission beamed from the Coliseum in Rome.  Where the corridor began to ascend just a little further on, there were a series of backlit displays on the guests’ left-hand side.  These panels promoted various RCA products and services, such as their SelectaVision video discs, and were updated numerous times over the years.      Then the hallway leveled off and began its next phase, the “Zig-Zag Corridor.”  Here the RCA song faded out and gave way to the ambient background noises of outer space, as engineered by Disney circa 1974.  And a new series of displays lined the sloping walls.  Through horizontal convex windows guests viewed a series of animated space vignettes: asteroids spinning across the cosmos, spiraling galaxies, spacecraft, astronauts servicing satellites, planets, shooting stars and finally guests in rocket jets zipping through the ride ahead.  This corridor remains much the same as it used to be.  But missing now are the original voice-overs for the five sets of windows.  These brief spoken segments, three by a man and two by a woman, were vaguely related to the subjects guests glimpsed through the windows.      For example, the first segment corresponded to the window with the spinning asteroid: “…sweeping through outer space, in the great gap between Mars and Jupiter, in a solar orbit, gigantic tumbling boulders, mini-planets, tracked by precise instrumentation developed by RCA aboard explorer ships, scan and analyze space debris…”   Cryptic enough?      At the end of the Zig-Zag Corridor, guests came to the warning film.  Today this film is in (at least) its third version.  During the ride’s early years, it was positively corny. A lady stood at one of the ride’s unload points as a rocket jet pulled in. “In case you’re wondering what the rocket ride through space is all about, here comes astronaut Gordon Cooper.  Well, how was your ride, astronaut Cooper?” Cooper, in his southern drawl, went on to describe the ride in as folksy a manner as possible (“really exciting, super-fast and a real thrill”) while the screen flashed images of wide-collared ’70s couples screaming through the cosmos. “And remember, things float around in space, so be sure to hang onto anything that’s not fastened down: eyeglasses, hearing aids, hats, and even wigs.”

     After double-checking their wigs, guests moved on to the load area.  The realms from here to the unload point have changed just a little since the early years.  The most obvious differences are in the redesigned control tower, cast member costumes, the video monitors over the queue areas, the three-seater ride vehicles that debuted in 1989 and the large FedEx packages that are stacked in what was once open floor space.  Also, the left and right hand sides of the ride lost their old nicknames “Alpha” and “Omega,” which were used frequently in debates over which track ran faster. But the best still lie ahead, once we’d already been jostled through space, climbed out of our rocket and learned to cope with gravity again.  From here all paths led to…

> > > RCA’s Home of Future Living < < <

     This experience began with guests stepping onto the same Speedramp (the long black moving Goodyear belt) that still shuffles people out of
Space Mountain today.  But what a different show they were getting in those early years: this original post-show spectacle combined “cutting-edge” technology, voyeurism and out-of-this-world 1970’s visuals to create a view of tomorrow’s home that was irresistible.       

     Once guests were on the moving sidewalk, their attention was drawn to their right, where the first scene of future life unfolded.  Here, on the home’s outdoor patio, the father figure reclined on a lounge chair.  He wore the latest in blue polyester jumpsuits, and his hair was blue too.  In front of him was a small briefcase-size TV screen propped up on a pedestal.  He was in the middle of a two-way closed circuit business meeting with a female associate …
from the comfort of his own relaxing home terrace.  In the display’s later years the father switched over to a videodisc player.    

     The next scene took guests “into” the house itself, via a convenient cross-section view that put everything in plain sight.  The house was a series of elongated white hexagonal modules that rested against each other and were joined together by stairways. Each room was done up in vibrant designer color schemes, most of which employed a lot of white, with putrid yellows, oranges and browns and other combinations that my family had on its furniture by 1978, so this truly was ahead of its time by three or four years.  The side walls of all the rooms were sharply angled, hence there was a wide variety of custom-built cabinetry and other fixtures that fit into the home’s unique contours.

     The first room in the house was the nursery, where a toy clown held a camera pointed directly at a baby, which stood up in its plexiglass crib just across the room.  The signal from the clown’s camera was broadcast to other parts of the house so the family could keep a constant eye on the child.

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     In the adjoining family room, an unidentified female*** was taking a two-way TV pottery lesson.  She sat on a bench with her creation in front of her, while her instructor and his work appeared on a large screen across the room.  She lamented to her teacher, “I’m afraid I’ve done something wrong.  I made my handle like yours but somehow it looks different on my pitcher.  What’s wrong?”  The teacher inspected her piece on his own TV screen and responded, “I’m afraid you’ve made your handle too small for the pitcher.”  

     Above the family room was a recreation room, where a teenage boy took in some snowskiing on a “SelectaVision” simulator and his younger brother sat at a desk assembling a rocket model kit via televised instructions.  This room was better viewed via the WEDway Peoplemover than from the Speedramp.  The Peoplemover afforded guests a glimpse into several sections of the Home of Future Living, much as it still allows guests to peer down into the current post-show.  The main difference would seem to be that earlier Tomorrowland attractions, Space Mountain’s post-show included, took the Peoplemover’s vantage point into consideration more so than later versions.

     The next scene took place outside the home, with a view of the front door.  A young boy in an orange jumpsuit stood here with a frog in one hand and his dog behind him.  A camera, protected by a transparent glass bubble, hung from the ceiling near the door.  The boy was talking to the mother, inside the house, through the use of another two-way communications system.  “Don’t you like frogs, Mrs. Brown?” he asked.  “Sorry Billy,” the mother responded, “Your dog and that frog will have to wait outside.”  

     Then guests passed by the kitchen, where the mother and a neighbor sat in front of another large TV wall unit.  On the screen were several different images, the largest of which was a dishware set.  The mother was sitting at a floor-mounted control console, where she negotiated a series of buttons to communicate with the onscreen catalog system (this was the pre-history of home shopping channels).  A voice in the background intoned, “If you wish to order the settingware in red, push button number one, push two for white or three for yellow.”  In the upper right hand corner of the TV screen was a view of Billy at the front door, where he persisted in his effort to get inside with the frog and dog.

     On to the teenage daughter’s bedroom, done in a wide variety of greens. Her orange hair contrasted nicely with the decor.  As she lie on her bed, she also chatted on the phone with her friend Judy and watched her new SelectaVision videodisc on a large screen across the room.  Over the years she perused several different “classic” discs, from Elvis to Kurt Russell (performing an Archies song with the Disneyland group Sound Castle) to Blondie.  The teenage girl seemed to enjoy it all equally, telling Judy to come right over and check it out with her.

     Finally guests moved on to the last room in this incredible house, the home entertainment center.  Here a young girl and boy watched a football game on a “wall-sized” screen.  The girl was sitting at a console from which she could record the game so the rest of the family could watch it later.  After several years of football the kids switched over to a videodisc of “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.”

     And you thought your family was TV-dependent?  This was a house full of cathode ray drones with test patterns for eyes.  Not a window in the whole place, not a room without at least one piece of video hardware, and all of them constantly ON.  Now you know how Bill Gates grew up.

     From this point the guests’ attention was drawn forward with the direction of the moving belt.  The belt was now descending at a gentle angle.  Above guests’ heads were a series of RCA product promotions highlighted against starfield backdrops.  And here was that crazy RCA song again, but this time there were words! An excerpt:

Here’s to the future, here’s to the future, here’s to the future and you
It’s a world full of color, of perfect harmony, a world full of music, a living melody,
The dreams of tomorrow are beginning today, it’s a world of discovery, the world of RCA

     This catchy tune, sung by a chorus and accented with brass and strings, would follow guests from this point until the end of their Speedramp run some distance ahead.  

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     Soon the Speedramp began to bank upward again, and the attraction’s final presentation could be seen to the right. Here were Billy and his dog again, having traded in the frog for a video camera, filming guests as they passed by.  Beyond Billy was a selection of nine different TVs (in 1975 only the actual screens were visible against a black backdrop, but in 1980 this changed to full sets).  Guests would soon see themselves on these sets, as their images were captured by cameras concealed in the background.  In 1975, seeing one’s self on TV was not an everyday, “hey, they have that in the mall” experience.  For many guests this was actually a high point of Space Mountain.  

     Now guests would step off the Speedramp and exit the attraction, straight back out into Tomorrowland and the sunlight (not today’s arcade) to meet those members of their party who didn’t care to see any portion of Space Mountain.  If only they had known how much fun was to be had inside that big white cone aside from the rocket race. Their loss, indeed.

     Many other elements of  Space Mountain described above did change from 1975-1985.  Especially within the Home of Future Living, where at least one upgrade came along circa 1982 and prompted a change in several of the on-screen elements.  The kitchen’s home shopping channel was replaced by Julia Child giving some cooking instructions and, as noted above, the kids switched to other programs as well.  The overhead product displays right after the house were replaced with yet more TV monitors, where a continuously running plug for RCA’s SelectaVision video discs showcased scenes from films like “Saturday Night Fever,” “The Godfather” and “The Ten Commandments.”  The voice-over for this section pre-empted the main RCA song with another tune, “Bring the Magic Home with RCA.”

     By the time Space Mountain reopened from its Fall 1985 rehab, most of the things talked about here were modified drastically or removed.  The Home of Future Living was gutted and replaced with RYCA-1: Dream of a New World.  This tableau, which is still around in a slightly altered format, was a somewhat more sparse vision of someone else’s future on a planet other than earth.  The majority of the pre-show images, and many of the sounds, were also scrapped in favor of updated presentations.  Some of these things lingered on into the early 1990s, like the Zig-Zag Corridor voice-overs and the original pylon sign at the entrance, but bit the dust prior to or concurrent with the arrival of FedEx’s sponsorship in 1993.

     In spite of all the disappearances, two descendants of RCA’s Home of Future Living can still be found lingering about the post-show.  They are the robot boy (formerly Billy) and dog who, from 1985 to 1995, continued to film guests for their TV “appearances.”  Now they’re messing around with bones in the lab scene.

Here’s to the Future and You!






lpiconHear that RCA song with vocals
mp3 file, 2.7mb, 1:57


*  Only one cheer, however, for the tiny imitation Space Mountain that WED finally built for Disneyland in 1977.  When I first saw California’s incarnation I thought it was a practical joke that someone forgot to dismantle after the laughs died away.   

** Everyone except the people who designed it, the people who built it and blind people.  Whether blind riders would find it thrilling or not would probably depend on how many other roller coasters they had previously experienced.  Ride it with your eyes closed, however, and you’ll really appreciate how good it sounds.

*** This lady in the family room was evidently not the mother, according to a 1975 press release which identified the mother as being in the kitchen scene.  She had about the same figure as the mother, but wore a different outfit and hairstyle. Perhaps, in keeping with some other Disney visions of the future, this was a grandmother who had merely aged well.

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