One of the most recognizable structures at the Walt Disney World Resort, it is not only the centerpiece and main focal point of Epcot, but also the symbolic structure and attraction that houses the basic fundamentals of the park. The 18-story geodesic sphere houses a 16-minute dark ride using the Omnimover system that explores the progression of human communications from cavemen to the dawn of the internet and beyond.
Spaceship Earth tracks the history of civilization through communication and innovation, while offering guests an opportunity to write their own future. The current version of the attraction is narrated by Judi Dench.
As guests depart, they begin their journey back into time in prehistory, where they witness ancient hunters battling a mammoth. Entering a cave, a caveman shaman tells a story of the great hunt while artists paint images on a wall. Together this illustrates our beginnings with creating written language and through cave paintings, saving our ideas for future generations.
We then enter ancient Egypt where reeds are being pounded into papyrus, one of the earliest forms of paper. A pharaoh is also seen dictating a new decree to one of his scribes, with his hieroglyphic writings serving as an example of early written language.
As we enter ancient Greece, we first encounter a boat of Phoenecian merchants selling their wares. To better allow for trade between a number of different civilizations with different languages, the Phoenecians created a common written language that would serve as the basis for our modern Alphabet. Within the Greecian city, we see one of their schools with a man teaching mathematical concepts to his students. Earlier versions of the attraction had the scene take the form of a Greek theater performance.
We then enter the Roman Empire, where Caesar is in the midst of conversation with a chariot messenger. With the vast reach of Rome and its vast network of roads, messages carried by chariot would travel fast throughout the empire, though this prosperity would come to an end.
Passing through the collapse of the Roman Empire and the burning of the great Library of Alexandria, we learn that some of their knowledge was fortunatelu saved by Jewish and Islamic scholars making copies of their books. Christian monasteries efforts in copying books are also shown, with one monk scribe having fallen asleep at his desk.
With Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1456, the reproduction of books is made much easier and faster, thus kickstarting the Renaissance. We see books being read, artists at work creating paint, sculpting fine marble statues, and Michelangelo at work painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Taking another leap in time, we enter the 19th and 20th centuries and the age of invention. A newspaper printing worker inspects a story on the end of the Civil War, with a nearby paperboy selling papers. The rise of other new forms of communications can also be seen such as telegraph operators, a 1930s radio station, an office of telephone operators, a movie theater in the 1950s, and finally, a living room where a family watches the 1969 Apollo moon landing broadcast on television.
From here we enter the dawn of the computer age and travel through a mainframe computer room in the 1970s and the construction of personal computers in California garages in the 1980s by a figure strongly resembling Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Passing through a tunnel of lights representing the dawn of the internet, we emerge out in space to see the Earth, reminding us of how small and interconnected our world is and how together, we can all shape the future and make a better world. The vehicles turn backwards and begin their descent back down to ground level. Through screens in our vehicles, guests can answer a few simple questions to create their own animated future vignette, utilizing photos taken at the beginning of the ride. As the short video concludes the narrator remarks that while we don't know what the future may hold, it is an adventure that we will all share, with guests disembarking into the Project Tomorrow post-show experience.
There have been four versions of the ride over the years.
The original version of Spaceship Earth debuted on October 1, 1982, on the opening day of EPCOT Center. Though there is some disagreement and no official crediting, the original narrator is commonly believed to be Vic Perrin. This version of the ride ran until 1986.
When guests originally arrived at the Earth view scene, they passed by a communications satellite with astronauts working on repairs. This scene would be removed in later versions to focus on the Earth view, with the satellite painted black to be hidden and the astronauts being sent to Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.
The second version of Spaceship Earth opened in 1986, featuring Walter Cronkite as the narrator. This version also featured the new theme song Tomorrow's Child, which served as the attraction's musical finale.
Jeremy Irons, voice of Scar in The Lion King, was the narrator for the third version of Spaceship Earth, which debuted in 1994. This version introduced scenes touching upon the future of communications technology with fibreoptics, video chat, and the world wide web.
The current version of Spaceship Earth officially opened in February 2008, after a soft opening in December 2007. Judi Dench is the English-language narrator. For the first time the ride audio became multi-language so audio language can be chosen by the riders on each seat row. Rewrites and changes to the story would shift focus from just communication to the history of technology in general.
New scenes showcasing the early history of computers would replace the previous video chat scenes. The descent show scenes were removed or covered up, with focus being put onto on-board screens that would allow guests to create their own future for an ending.
- March 1, 1982
- Spaceship Earth opens with the opening of EPCOT Center.
- Sponsored by the Bell System.
- The narrator is Vic Perrin.
- May 26, 1986
- August 15, 1994
- Closes for second major renovation.
- "Home Computer", "Office Computer", "Network Operations Center", and "Space Station" scenes were removed.
- New final scenes installed and replace old final scenes.
- Earth Station closes.
- "Tomorrow's Child" ending removed.
- November 23, 1994
- Attraction reopens.
- New ride narration by Jeremy Irons.
- New ride score by Edo Guidotti.
- The Global Neighborhood replaces Earth Station.
- September 29, 1999
- The Mickey Mouse arm holding a wand is dedicated with "2000" over Spaceship Earth.
- November 24, 1999
- The Global Neighborhood is replaced with The New Global Neighborhood, a new exhibit space serving as hands-on playground for Spaceship Earth's post show.
- May 2001
- The Mickey Mouse arm holding a wand is changed to say "Epcot" over Spaceship Earth.
- January 1, 2003
- AT&T sponsorship ends.
- April 2004
- The New Global Neighborhood is removed and the area is boarded up.
- AT&T references removed.
- November 2005
- It was announced that Siemens AG will sponsor Spaceship Earth for twelve years.
- April 11, 2007
- Major changes coming to Spaceship Earth are announced.
- April 25, 2007
- The new exhibit space in Spaceship Earth's post show called Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future opens.
- July 5, 2007
- Epcot Vice President Jim Macphee announces the removal of the wand structure in time for the park's 25th anniversary on October 1, 2007.
- July 9, 2007
- Spaceship Earth closes for a fourth renovation.
- Removal of the wand structure begins.
- August 24, 2007
- Removal of the wand structure completed.
- December 2007
- Guest previews of fourth edition begin.
- For the first time ever ride becomes interactive and multi-language.
- February 15, 2008
- Fourth edition opens to the general public after renovations.
- New narration by Dame Judi Dench.
- August 25, 2019
- Fifth edition announced at the D23 Expo. Attraction said to be refocused onto a general story of the human spirit, with a new "Storylight" host as a narrator. New scenes to be added, with a scene about Polynesian Voyagers shown.
- October 1, 2019
- Epcot Experience Center exhibit gives the new Spaceship Earth the subtitle "Our Shared Story".
In other media
Spaceship Earth appears in both of the Disney Kingdoms Figment titles. While the first series ends on the image of Figment and Dreamfinder flying over it, the sequel goes into further details and establishes it as an enigmatic object of unknown origin that spontaneously appeared at the Academy Scientifica-Lucida's Florida campus in the 1980s. It has been tapped into as an energy source, but it has proven to be unreliable with occasional disappearances, with it vanishing again during a presentation by the Dreamfinder. The blame put onto him by the angry dean of the school ends up awakening his inner doubts as the Doubtfinder. After this threat is defeated, Dreamfinder and Figment begin a new quest to search for it.
As an iconic feature of Epcot and Walt Disney World in general, Spaceship Earth has made occasional appearances in video games, such as Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour and Disney Infinity.
- Ray Bradbury, author of the novel Fahrenheit 451 and an avid Disney fan, helped design the 180-foot-tall Epcot ball as well as pen the attraction’s original storyline.
- 10-time Emmy winner Bruce Boughton conducted a 63-piece orchestra and 24-voice choir for his musical score. If you listen closely, you’ll notice that the music for each scene features styles and instruments appropriate to the era, transitioning seamlessly into the next.
- The exterior is very frequently mistaken as a giant golf ball. Young children and even older Guests (the latter just for laughs and nostalgia) often mistake the geodesic sphere for a giant golf ball on legs.
- In the Renaissance scene, an artist is painting a still-life - bowl of fruit, bottle, etc. Three of the grapes are heavily outlined to form a Hidden Mickey.
- The geodesic sphere is made up of 11,324 alucabond tiles, and is estimated to weigh close to 16 million pounds.
- The entire sphere could be entirely submerged in the aquarium tank at The Seas!
- The top of the dome with the starfield and projection of Earth was originally meant to be a scene depicting a moonbase. The effect was found to be unconvincing, yet many props remained in place and could be seen in the darkness if one looked closely, before being removed during the 1994 refurbishment. Two astronaut figures can now be seen on the lift hill for Space Mountain.
Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future
After your ride, check out challenging games and engaging displays showcasing the latest in high-tech medicine, transportation and energy efficiency in this interactive play area for all ages, sponsored by Siemens AG.