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
- Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy! and 10=Yikes!): 7.5. The sustained G-forces can be unnerving; the simulated liftoff and flight are very realistic; the capsule is quite confining.
- Attraction Type: Motion simulator using centrifuge technology
- Height Requirements: 44 inches
- Tips: Use MyMagic+ to get a 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 non-spinning pods, in what it calls the "Green Team." The effect isn't nearly as wild as the regular "Orange Team" pods, but you'll at least get a sense of the attraction.
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. Our guess for 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?
--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.
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. 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 our 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.
Is Mission: SPACE for You?
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.
The centrifuge mimics a spinning ride, like the Scrambler, Tilt-A-Whirl, and other amusement park staples known affectionately in the industry as "whirl-and-hurl" or "spin-and-puke" rides. The difference with the Epcot attraction is that guests have no visual cues that they are spinning. This may be good news for people easily upset by such rides (the visual information is what usually causes nausea), but bad news for people who have a hard time with motion simulator rides like Star Tours. The disconnect between what you see and the kinetic motion your body experiences can trigger an adverse reaction in some people.
While it's not part of any of the pre-recorded info, Mission: SPACE cast members (that's Disneyspeak for employees) tell guests not to close their eyes and to keep them focused straight ahead. Ignoring either warning may cause riders to feel the spinning sensation, which can lead some to nausea. However, keeping your eyes ahead with the capsule's monitors, flashing lights, and other crewmembers to either side of you is difficult.
The ride is not spinning at a ferocious rate. While Disney won't officially reveal any stats, one Mouse House rep divulged that the centrifuge never exceeds around 35 MPH. And while Disney press releases state that the G-Forces are less than typical roller coasters, they are of considerably greater duration.
We've experienced momentary bursts of positive Gs on many coasters, but we've never felt anything like Mission: Space's sustained Gs. For our reviewers, it was an otherworldly, almost ethereal sensation. While everyone we spoke with seemed to experience it differently, we especially felt a slight tightening in our chest and some pressure on my internal organs. Others said their face muscles bore the brunt of the Gs. The unconfirmed buzz around Mission: SPACE is that the ride doesn't surpass a relatively benign 3Gs. Again, it's the duration that makes the difference.
Not a lot of SPACE
For all of the warnings, and for all of the untested waters Mission: SPACE navigates, hardly any riders actually lose their lunches on the attraction. Many feel a bit queasy both during and after the ride. There are air sickness bags onboard. Remember that you can opt for a non-spinning ride experience.
If you're claustrophobic, however, be aware that, whether the pods spin or not, Mission: SPACE places guests in extremely tight quarters. One of our team members has a bit of a problem with confined spaces, and she got a little queasy when our team's mission was delayed for about four minutes. Once the ride sequence began, however, she was fine. The capsules do have a lot of cold air circulating, which helps keep claustrophobic feelings at bay; if anything, the cabin was a bit too cold.
After the training mission, guests move to the Advance Training Lab post-show area. Activities include a sophisticated video game called Expedition: Mars, the interactive, multi-player Mission: SPACE Race game, the Space Base play area for children, and Postcards from Space, a computer program that allows guests to email pictures of themselves cavorting around the galaxy. Beyond the training lab is the obligatory retail shop.