Before we get into the building of Spaceship Earth, go over to google.com and search for “geodesic sphere”, or easier yet, let me google that for you!
What do you see?
If you are like me you were looking at the results wondering if you had even googled the right term. You will see a lot of pages about geodesic domes, but that’s not what you want! Everyone builds geodesic domes, you even played on them as a kid in the playground, or at least I did.
Oh wait, no one builds geodesic spheres, no one except Disney!
Designing Spaceship Earth
The Earth when through a few different designs, but Disney didn’t want to do anything anyone else had done. As Marty Sklar writes in his book, Dream it! Do It!, Spaceship Earth started out as a written idea: “let guests entering Epcot walk under an icon suggesting the planet itself.”
The Imagineers were inspired by Buckminster Fuller who first designed geodesic domes, which are used all over the world in various uses. They even used Fuller’s term “Spaceship Earth” to name their new icon. Using Fuller’s design, the Imagineers took it one step further.
Spaceship Earth is the first of its kind. With no one else at the time (or even now) building geodesic spheres of that size one of the first design meeting of Spaceship Earth the engineers working for Imagineering came in and showed their concept of the new icon, it was a picture of a dome sitting on the ground. Well, that wasn’t good enough for John Hench! Imagineering wanted a true icon for Epcot, not something that everyone else had been able to do. So, John Hench proposed this idea:
I asked if the dome could instead rest on a round platform with legs underneath to hold it up, which would allow us to suspend the bottom quarter of a sphere from the underside of the platform, completing the sphere.
Engineers can’t figure out how to get it done, but Imagineers can. The engineers had to think about this idea for a few days, but finally came back and said that Hench’s idea would work. So, now we see Spaceship Earth as John Hench thought of it and drew it on a piece of paper!
Building Spaceship Earth
Spaceship Earth took about 26 months to complete, or 2 years and 2 months, if you are like me and dislike when people say their baby is 24 months. As I mentioned above, Spaceship Earth is basically sitting on a table or platform while the bottom quarter is hung from the table. Built with 6 legs to support the platform, the legs are driven around 120 to 185 feet into the ground! Where are the other two legs you ask? They are hidden with the rest of the structure on the backend of the golf ball.
The Earth is 180 feet tall and 165 feet in diameter, and perched 15 feet off the ground by its legs, making it the second tallest structure in Walt Disney World. When you see Spaceship Earth all you see is one sphere, but if you go about 2 feet in from the exterior there is another sphere that houses and supports the tracks and show areas of the attractions along with maintenance areas, the outer sphere is just a facade. The inner sphere is wrapped in a thick rubber membrane to make it completely waterproof. Water doesn’t pour off of Spaceship Earth because of a special drainage system that collects the rainwater and whisks it away into the World Showcase Lagoon.
The construction of the Earth took about 1,700 tons of steel and weighs an estimated nearly 16 million pounds! The exterior is clad in a material called Alucobond. Alucobond is a special material created in the late 1960s and first started production in the US 1979. Alucobond is plastic sandwiched by two pieced of anodized aluminum, making it very light and weather resistant. It is so weather resistant, in fact, that Disney called it self-cleaning in the early days! Although I am not sure how true that is, but I must say I’ve never looked at Spaceship Earth and thought it dirty. It took 11.324 facets attached to 954 triangular panels to cover the entire sphere. I think it’s safe to say that the Imagineers chose the perfect material for the facade, Spaceship Earth still looks futuristic and sometimes otherworldly. The material being smoother than glass it takes on the reflections of its surroundings and can be transformed at night with lights, making it one of the most beautiful structures you could ever see.
Spaceship Earth is air-conditioned after all, it’s Florida, but the whole thing isn’t air condition, just the attraction areas.
The attraction itself has gone through about four different variations
The mirrored column under Spaceship Earth houses an elevator
You can actually go to the top of the structure, and when I say to the top I mean it. There is an access hatch at the top so you can actually stand on the roof.