Welcome to the next post of Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole Geryak, and I’ll be your commander on today’s journey through outer space.
Just a couple of days ago, the Imagineers behind Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission BREAKOUT! in Disney California Adventure finally spilled some of the beans on what the attraction would be like. I won’t say too much for those who want a complete surprise when they ride it the first time, but I will say that there will multiple scenarios to experience (like Star Tours). Overall, the attraction sounds beyond cool, and I cannot wait to ride it in just about a month!
But before we can go to outer space with the Guardians, we have to look at the past and the beginning of space travel for today’s featured attractions.
Humankind has always had a fascination with the cosmos and space travel. Walt Disney shared this enjoyment of space, so when planning Tomorrowland for his new project Disneyland, a space-themed attraction was a must.
One thing to remember is that Disneyland was being planned before any human being had ever 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 its innovation.
Thus, Rocket to the Moon opened in Disneyland on July 22nd, 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 traveled 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 a truly 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 by some to be the first simulator attraction ever created (though it’s much different from its predecessors like Star Tours). The seats in the theater did not move, so all of the simulation came 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 for the time.
Guests’ journey to the moon continued in the same way for years, but the journey to get to the journey (AKA, 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 statement 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 1967’s New Tomorrowland, 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 slightly, 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 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. 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 that queue to this day).
In terms of the 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 24th, 1971. The only real difference between the two that I could find 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 unexpected turbulence when 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 knows the lore of Martians and their vast communities on the planet. Obviously, we now know that none of those stories 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 21st, 1975 and at the Magic Kingdom on June 7th, 1975. Both versions were nearly identical with only slight theming differences throughout.
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.
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 (as tends to happen with Tomorrowland). Being an older 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 2nd, 1992 and its final Magic Kingdom mission on October 4th, 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 is one of my favorite dishes at Disneyland). Because of all the uncertainty regarding what would actually happen with Tomorrowland 1998 (another refurbishment to Tomorrowland), it took six years for the restaurant to finally 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 story of the ride revolves around guests simulating a flight 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 below. 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. This attraction was a part of Walt Disney World.
2. This attraction has more tributes than almost any other attraction.
3. This attraction closed once and reopened before its official closure.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post because I had a great time revisiting it.
Thanks for reading, and have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.