Enclosed Coasters: part two of an adventure through the Smoky Mountains and Southern California.

In 1977, John Hench and William Watkins finally brought Walt Disney vision to life at Disneyland. Space Mountain there opened in 1977 and Mr. Watkins designed a unique ride inside a 200 feet wide mountain that has a 100 feet tall peak. In order not to dwarf Sleepy Beauty Castle, the ride is buried 10 feet underground. The ride profile was built around a single track that used wider patented track. The larger track compensated for the lost capacity (versus the Magic Kingdom space port) by using trains of 2 six seat rockets. The rockets have 3 rows with 2 astronauts per row.

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The current outdoor waiting line.

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The Fast Pass entrance portal into the corridors of the mountain.

Let’s discuss the track now. William Watkins flew airplanes in his free times and thus, inspired himself to “heartline” the track. Whereas before, the curves were calculated to have proper forces, but one of the track tube followed a regular path. Mr. Watkins calculated that having both tubes move in the turns, he could create a ride path where the riders head and heart would follow a natural curve. This lead to the smoothest turns ever created on a roller coaster. Riders do not feel jostled around and this was so important that over the years, every new roller coaster followed that principle.

The ride layout features a triple chained lift hill in the middle of the ride in order to save space. The anti-rollbacks are silent, thank to using unique spring loaded triangles. In normal operation, the triangles are forced open and thus allow the rocket brake fins to go through. Now, if the lift stop, the triangles all snap closed, thus blocking the rockets. Similar triangles are mounted on pneumatic cylinders in the station area and those push the rockets around so that it can have the fasted station movement of any coasters. Multiple rockets move at once, since each station zone has two sets of sensors. Once the previous rocket has cleared the first sensors, the rocket behind moves forward. Also, like Matterhorn Bobsleds, the back of each rocket has a spring loaded hidden bumpers, so that during regular operation, rockets will touch each other.

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The Starship that hang over the loading area.

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The loading station with the air gates.

The ride was originally delivered with 13 rockets and normally, 10-11 are used on a very tight timing. The nature of the ride control system and the number of rockets mean there can be no delays loading. Having a back-up of more than 5 rockets in the station mean the sixth rocket will get stopped on the trimming station and that cause an automatic emergency stop. Also, the rockets are weighted before turning to lift A. A rocket that is too heavy will be sent to the left instead and will stop in the rocket staging area. A cast member will come out, manually release the lap bars and then bring the riders back to the grouper for better distribution.

Space Mountain rocket Disneyland

A look at a current rocket on Space Mountain.

The transfer track form a loop on the left side of the station and using high speed track switches and transfer tracks, rockets can be removed or inserted into operation with no ride stoppage.

The layout is mostly 90% right hand curves, either ascending or descending. There is a left hand turn at the top of C lift and the final turn is a very surprising sharp left hand turn into the trimming brake section. The ride features only one real drop, near the middle of the ride. It is around 25 feet tall and effectively kicks the rockets into overdrive, leading to one of the grandest ending of any ride. The rocket only reach a top speed of 30 mph after the drop, but the turns and straight brake run effectively keep it at that speed with seemingly little or no loss of velocity.

In April 2003, the ride experienced a sudden closure that pushed forward the debut of a planned reconstruction of the ride in time for Disneyland 50th anniversary in 2005. The lift hills, trimming brake and most of the station area kept the original Bill Watkins triangular track. The station got a new sliding transfer track that lead to a second station. That station is used for disabled guests and so, they can take as long as needed to get on and exit without constant ride stops. The incredible thing is that the rocket is inserted into the main track in a few seconds. An empty rocket is sent forward of the station, is stopped and then the transfer track slide into place and the full rocket sent in. The transfer track does not even need to be reset, as it features the same brake, sensors and pneumatic pusher as the main track. When it come back, the rocket go through the station, is stopped and then slide over for unload. The empty rocket is re inserted into rotation and the launch interval adjusted to compensate for a slower empty train.

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You can see the Disabled Guests platform in this picture.


The area above the top cast member can be used as an unload in busy operations for incoming rockets.

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Transfer track for rockets leaving the staging area.

The bottom of the ride was broken up and new foundations poured in to accommodate new supports. The original supports were a steel scaffold configuration that was bolted to a cement pad at the bottom. The new ones have individual foundation piers and that was needed to receive the beefier square box spine track pieces. Manufactured by AMEC (now Dynamic Attractions) specially to WDI specifications, the ride should last another 25 years.

In 1996, on board audio was introduced on the original rockets. Legend surf rocker Dick Dale was tapped to record a new version of the classic piece “Carnaval des Animaux”. Using taller headrests to receive the speakers, it caused to issues with the excess weight damaging the track and trains. The on-board audio computer was eventually removed and the speakers removed.

As part of the 2005 refurbishment, a new audio soundtrack was composed by a frequent Pixar collaborator, Michael Giaccono. The song was set to accompany the refreshed effects and scenery.

As the rocket leaves the station, it turns to the right as the music come to life in a triumphant way to encourage us on our adventure. As we climb lift A, we see lighted globes that change color as our mission controller announce that our rocket is getting powered up. After the lift, the train to the right in a blue asteroid tunnel where the lights are synchronized to our sound. B lift feature a changing video tunnel where we enter a spiral galaxy that spin in front of us and at the top, we have entered space.

A large red glowing asteroid was originally installed on the left as you transitioned from Lift B to C, but time constraints left it unfinished and so, during normal operation you do not see it. As you go up Lift C, our flight controller counts down from 5. At the top, we have lift off and we start zipping around a star field using fixed disco balls and various projected meteorites and stars. The drop was supposed to have the Hyper gate where using steel frames with lights, we’d feel as if we had just reached a faster speed. The steel gates are there, but sadly, not used normally. The ending features a unique reversing star effect where it feels we have left hyperspace.

Originally, the plan was to have the regular Space Mountain during the day and at night, the attraction would start “rocking”. The soundtrack would be a rock song; there would be projections and a rock concert atmosphere. Due to operational problems, the idea remained an idea until 2007. That year, for a few months, Disneyland turned the ride into “Rockin’ Space Mountain”, featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers reprise of Stevie Wonder “Higher Ground”. The idea was original for sure, but the added effects instead ruined the illusion, as you could clearly see the track in front of you. After the promotion, it never came back.

For grad night events, Disneyland played Hoobastank “The Reason” during the ride for the graduate high school students. For special cast member ride nights around Halloween, Space Mountain was called “Nightmare Nebula” and quick Halloween decorations were thrown around the indoor waiting line. For the ride itself, it was simple… No music, no lights, no effects. It was effectively a trip through a black nebula where there is no light.

In 2009, Disneyland Space Mountain was also haunted by the Ghost Galaxy from Hong Kong Disneyland. The idea here was to give an extra kick to Halloween at Disneyland by making Space Mountain scary, inside and outside. Large projectors were installed outside, so that every few minutes, an impressive show would take place on the mountain exterior. Maybe the mountain will freeze over? Will turn to dead rock? How about a laser net around to keep the Ghost inside?


Ghost Galaxy projection.

Once on the ride, the A lift is lighted in eerie green lights. The Ghost stole the blue meteors and once on B lift, we see the Ghost Galaxy at the top. He then screams at us in a huge bass sound that shakes our rockets around. He then sends bolts of energy around us and then flees to the left as we reach the top. Once on the ride, we are constantly chased by him. He will follow us around and sometime look at us with his evil eye or swipe with his claw.

It is a brilliant makeover and is as good as the original experience. It is very popular and weekends see the ride go from 45-60 minutes wait to 90-150 minutes wait. In the evening, hundreds of people will stop outside the ride and see what the Ghost will do next to the exterior.

1978 saw Hershend (owner of Silver Dollar City) add to what was then Silver Dollar City Tennessee (Pigeon Forge, TN) a new version of the Fire in the Hole attraction. Called Blazing Fury, it removed the Baldknobbers villains and went toward a more generic mountain on fire theme. Ride capacity was improved with 18 seats 3 cars trains, while the original ran short two cars trains for 12 riders. Between 2010 and 2011, the water splashdown was removed and replaced by magnetic brakes. The park is today known as Dollywood.


Fire in the Hole show building.