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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: To the Moon and Beyond

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing on July 20, 1969, but like many things, Disney was there first, not only with the Tomorrowland television episodes from the 1950s but also with attractions in the Disney theme parks.

Disneyland opened in July 1955 with an attraction called Rocket to the Moon that simulated a trip around the moon, and when the New Tomorrowland debuted there in 1967, the attraction was redesigned as Flight to the Moon. This revised version opened at Walt Disney World on December 24, 1971.

Inside were two “Lunar Transports” theaters meant to represent the passenger cabins in a space ship. The pre-show allowed guests to see pre-launch activity in Mission Control, “the nerve center of Disneyland’s spaceport”. Eight audio-animatronics male figures were seated along two banks of computers moving their heads and arms.

The one standing figure who talked to the audience was Control Center Director Mr. Tom Morrow. Screens behind Mr. Morrow showed some NASA footage, new projects that were being prepared, and the preparations for Flight 92 (that the guests would soon be boarding as their flight), as well as the famous footage from runway 12 where a clumsy albatross came in for an awkward landing that tripped security alarms.

Once in the theater, the upper ceiling and lower floor projection screens showed some of the same material from the original attraction with flares lighting up the dark side of the moon and being caught in a meteoroid shower on the return to the Earth. However, during the nine minute moon flight, two screens mounted on opposite sides of the cabin’s walls showed a new “live” telecast from the moon’s surface of astronauts gathering ore samples, demonstrating weightlessness and showing off the nearby moon base.

However, even as it was being installed at Walt Disney World, it was obsolete even though publicity stated “Disney called on NASA experts to provide data. The new show is as scientifically authentic, accurate and up-to-date as possible”. NASA had purposely withheld information including the actual design of the moon landing vehicle.

In March 1975, the new version entitled Mission to Mars, opened but it was not just a simple overlay at an existing location.

The entrance and holding areas were completely redone. More importantly, a female audio-animatronics character took over one of the seats in the Mission Control pre-show.

Mr. Tom Morrow was replaced by the audio-animatronics bespectacled Mr. Johnson (who was voiced by actor George Walsh, who had previously supplied the voice for Mr. Morrow) discussing space travel and the Mars vehicle. The new show included Mars footage shot by a NASA satellite.

Of course, there was no base on Mars for astronauts to transmit a “live” broadcast to the guests as was done on the “near-future” moon voyage. So that section was changed to images from probes launched from the rocket and narrated by Third Officer Collins voiced by Peter Renoudet. Those probes showed details of the surface of the planet including canyons and mountains.

Some things that had delighted guests in the previous show remained including the footage of the albatross tripping the security alarms and the danger from a meteoroid shower forcing the ship’s immediate return to earth.

(c) Disney

The theaters remained the same as the earlier incarnation with four tiers and screens on the top and bottom. However, when the moon came into view, the ship jumped into “hyper-space penetration” that brought Mars into range.

Some guests had lost interest in real space flights so weren’t as interested in this new destination adventure, and attendance quickly dwindled and it was closed in October 1993. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter opened in the space June 1995 and was replaced by Stitch’s Great Escape on November 2004.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, The Unofficial Walt Disney World 1971 Companion: Stories of How the World Began, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.


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