Welcome to the next post of Disney Extinct Attractions! My name is Cole Geryak, and I’ll be your commander on today’s unofficial journey through outer space!
I’m glad you managed to find your way back, and to all you first-time readers, I hope you enjoy what you find here!
First, let’s take a brief moment to remember those lost in the horrible massacre in Orlando. It truly is terrible what happened there, and I know I speak for many when I say that everyone involved with the incident is in my thoughts and prayers.
Now onto some brighter news! This is a huge week for Disney Parks because not only is Soarin’ Around the World opening in three different parks, but the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland has finally arrived!
I’ve talked a bit about Shanghai before on this blog, so I’m not going to dive into it, but the project (which has been in construction for five long years) is finally ready to open to the public! It has been eleven years since a new Disney Park was unveiled, one of the longest gaps in the company’s history, so to say that this park is highly anticipated is a bit of understatement, governor. In the wake of this beautiful, new park, it’s time to take jump in our time machine and visit the park that started it all.
But before we can go to Disneyland, we have to take a quick detour to outer space!
Humankind has always had a fascination with the cosmos and space travel. Walt Disney shared this enjoyment of space travel, so when planning a Tomorrowland for his new project Disneyland, having a transportation-themed attraction in space was a must!
One thing to remember is that Disneyland was being planned before any human being had ever even been to space, let alone the moon! What it would actually be like to travel through outer space was a complete mystery to the world at this point in time, so creating an attraction simulating that experience was a perfect move for a company that prides itself on being innovative.
Thus, Rocket to the Moon opened in Disneyland on July 22, 1955, five days after the official opening of the park. Sponsored by Trans World Airlines, Rocket to the Moon transported guests to a future where space travel had become the norm, and people went on day trips around the moon. Guests boarded a “rocket” and travelled to the Moon and back, learning new facts about the Moon and outer space along the way. Considering the fact that no human had ever been to outer space at this point, it must have been an otherworldly experience for guests!
In addition to the unique content that Rocket to the Moon provided, the actual set up of the theater set it apart from other attractions of the time.
Rocket to the Moon is considered the first simulator attraction ever created (though it’s much different from its predecessors like Star Tours and Honey I Shrunk the Audience!). The seats in the theater did not move, so all of the simulation had to come through the screens. What made the theater special was that there was a screen on the ground (to show where you had been), ceiling (to show where you were going), and side walls (to add extra information and visuals on your trip). Having so much to engage the guests’ attention, I have to imagine that it was a pretty convincing trip around the moon!
Guests’ journey to the moon continued in the same way for years, but the journey to get to the journey (the queue!) changed slightly when Douglas Aircraft Company took over sponsorship of the attraction in 1962.
The iconic Moonliner was the only part of the attraction to really change with the new sponsor, simply getting a facelift to represent its new benefactor!
The Moonliner would not last forever, though, and its demise also meant that Rocket to the Moon was nearing its final launch. Ok, that is a little misleading because Rocket to the Moon simply underwent an expansive refurbishment and when it reopened became known as Flight to the Moon!
Flight to the Moon opened as a part of New Tomorrowland, which you can read more about in this post, and it helped take an attraction that was becoming outdated and spice it up a bit! New theaters were constructed that were larger and also featured seats that moved, helping guests really feel like they were launching into outer space. The Moonliner was also demolished to allow for a sleeker entrance to the attraction, but unfortunately leading to the loss of a true park icon.
Inside the attraction, the largest change was the addition of an Audio-Animatronic preshow (this was the beginning of AAs with Pirates and Carousel of Progress, so Disney was anxious to showcase their new technology!).
Guests were introduced to Mr. Johnson, the head of Mission Control, and given a brief overview on space travel and what the journey would be like. I think it was a really interesting way to be introduced to the attraction and learn a little bit about space on the way, especially because guests had the chance to see many animatronics at work (and this was just the preshow!). There was one very odd part though, where an albatross accidentally landed on one of the runways, but I actually thought it was really funny (as did the Mission: SPACE creators because you can find video of the bird in the queue to this day!).
In terms of the actual attraction, not much changed in the actual video, except guests now had the opportunity to watch astronauts working on the Moon, and the astronauts would even stop by to say hello!
Disneyland did not keep Flight to the Moon all to itself, however! An almost identical version of the attraction opened in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World on December 24, 1971. The only real difference between the two that I could find (and correct me if I’m wrong!) is that the head of Mission Control was named Tom Morrow, a name that always seems to be floating around Tomorrowland!
Flight to the Moon underwent some turbulence because humans finally took the giant leap onto the Moon, and the attraction began to feel outdated. It was no longer the groundbreaking attraction of old, so another change was needed to both versions of Flight to the Moon!
Mars has always had a special place in human hearts because everyone has heard of the lore of Martians and their vast communities on the planet. Obviously, we now know that none of those rumors are true, but Mars still is one of the Earth’s neighbors, and one of the planets that we have explored the most. Therefore, a journey to Mars was a perfect choice to replace the journey to the Moon that had graced Disney Parks for twenty years.
Missions to Mars opened at Disneyland on March 21, 1975 and at the Magic Kingdom on June 7, 1975. I believe that both versions were pretty much identical, but I couldn’t find that much information about differences, so don’t quote me on that one!
Guests still had the chance to watch the preshow, with little changing except for more of a focus on Mars than space in general (and yes, the bird was still there!). Guests then had the chance to go on a roundtrip journey to Mars, complete with hyperspace travel! Considering that Star Wars came out two years later, it was interesting to see what Disney Imagineers thought hyperspace might look like compared to what George Lucas and his team thought it would like (sorry, nerded out a little bit there!).
Speaking of Star Wars, in the late 1980s, more advanced simulator attractions such as Star Tours and Body Wars started to become mainstays in the Disney Parks, each one making Mission To Mars look more and more outdated. At the same time, Disney Imagineers were looking to recreate Tomorrowland at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom because the land itself was becoming outdated. (You can find out more about that in this post.) Being an outdated attraction in a land scheduled for refurbishment is never a good thing, so sure enough, Missions to Mars had its last Disneyland launch on November 2, 1992 and its final Magic Kingdom mission on October 4, 1993. But both of its replacements carried a little piece of their predecessors with them!
The ill-fated Magic Kingdom replacement, the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter maintained the theater in the round experience of its predecessors, but it never really caught on with guests due to its truly frightening nature!
Over in Disneyland, Mission to Mars was replaced by Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port, an Italian restaurant (which serves pretty great chicken fusilli that I get quite often!). Because of all the uncertainty regarding what would actually happen with Tomorrowland 1998, it took six years for the restaurant to final open, but when it did, it brought the Moonliner back, albeit at one third the size! But the attraction that pays the greatest homage to the attractions (Missions to Mars, especially) lies in a different park entirely.
Mission: SPACE is located in EPCOT at Walt Disney World, and the entire purpose of the ride is for guests to have the chance to simulate flying to Mars. An advanced motion simulator, guests are able to physically experience the G-Forces that an astronaut might experience if he or she were undergoing a mission to Mars. The attraction does a great job of keeping the legacy of Mission to Mars alive, ensuring guests to Disney Parks will never forget what came before.
A great resource about all three of these attractions talked about today can also be found right here. This 30 minute documentary details the history of the attractions and even includes a lot of footage from them, especially Mission to Mars. It is definitely worth checking out if these attractions really interested you!
And with that, it’s time to touch back down on Earth, and talk about what is in store for next week!
1. The replacement to this attraction will open in the next week.
2. This attraction could only be found in one park.
3. This attraction had a post show.
Anyways, thank you for reading this post, and I certainly hope you enjoyed it! As always, I love hearing what you all thought about the post, so be sure to comment below wherever you found this, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! You can also join this blog’s Facebook group for updates on when new posts come out!
Thanks for reading and have a magical day!