By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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A Friday Visit With Jim Korkis: Spaceship Earth

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

Jim Korkis on Spaceship Earth from (2)When Epcot opened in 1982 (as EPCOT Center), Spaceship Earth, the icon for the new Disney theme park, dominated the entrance, just as globe-like structures dominated the New York World’s Fairs of 1939 and 1964.

The term “Spaceship Earth” was popularized by Buckminister Fuller who was a designer, inventor and early environmental activist.

Fuller envisioned that the planet, like a spaceship, continues to travel through the universe and we as the crew must work together to keep the spaceship in good shape.

Fuller also developed the intrinsic mathematics for a geodesic dome and received a patent for it in 1954.

Spaceship Earth is the largest geodesic sphere in the world at 165 feet in diameter. It is 180 feet to the top and is covered by 954 triangular panels of alucobond (anodized aluminum on both sides heat-bonded with a polyethylene core in the center). It is supported fifteen feet off the ground by six steel legs driven deep into the ground. The structure seems to be floating off the ground.

Jim Korkis on Spaceship Earth from

Imagineer John Hench told reporter Laura Kavesh for her story in The Orlando Sentinel that “the columns of Spaceship Earth are constructed to reach out like beckoning arms. I defy anyone who is depressed to still be depressed when they walk through there. We do all this from experience. Walt did it from intuition. It’s designed to say, ‘You’re okay. You’re going to be okay’. We as humans must make sense of things or we feel threatened.”

Spaceship Earth is actually two separate spherical structures, one inside the other. The inner sphere is composed of 1,450 structural steel members arranged in a giant triangular fashion and is the weatherproof enclosure for the show. The inner core also contains decking at several levels and a spiral route for Spaceship Earth’s ride system.

The outer sphere façade is held about two feet away from the inner core by aluminum hubs. A gutter was developed about mid-point on the sphere to collect rain water and channel it through the structure and its supporting legs to underground drains that eventually lead to the World Showcase lagoon. In that way, rain does not cascade down the side of Spaceship Earth onto the guests below.

To minimize air-conditioning costs, air cannons direct cool air only onto the 1,552 feet ride path so that guests don’t feel the heat and humidity just a few feet away.

Spaceship Earth During Flower and Garden from

Before Disney decided on a geodesic sphere, other designs were considered for Spaceship Earth. These included the Roman Parthenon, the dome of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, and a steel frame supporting a map of the world like that at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. A golden geodesic dome was also seriously considered, inspired by the Expo ’67 dome in Montreal.

The attraction was officially dedicated on October 1, 1982, when Epcot first opened to the public. Chairman of Walt Disney Productions Card Walker said, “communications is the beginning of understanding and thus fitting of the park’s marquee attraction.”

In less than a week, over 100,000 guests rode the attraction. Within the first year of operation nearly 7.5 million guests rode Spaceship Earth, letting it claim the honor of the highest ridership of any attraction at all of Walt Disney World that year.

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Thanks, Jim!

Come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis.

In the meantime, check out his books, including The Vault of WaltWho’s Afraid of the Song of the South?, and The Book of Mouse, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your First Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.


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