6 Things You May Not Know About Spaceship Earth
1. A Unique Icon
When EPCOT was being developed as a new theme park, Disney Imagineers knew that it would require an iconic landmark similar to Cinderella Castle. Imagineers came up with the concept of a geodesic sphere, which was soon to be named Spaceship Earth, home to a dark ride that took Guests on a tour through the history (and future) of communication. To create the attraction, Disney Imagineers collaborated with noted author Ray Bradbury (who would later contribute to the conception of the Orbitron space ride at Disneyland Paris, then known as Euro-Disney), the Smithsonian Institution, the Huntington Library, the University of Southern California, and the University of Chicago.
2. Just How Big is That Giant Golf Ball?
The massive construction project took 26 months to complete, requiring a total of 40,800 labor hours to build. (That’s more than 4½ years!) Spaceship Earth is 180 feet high and 165 feet in diameter, and it weighs nearly 16 million pounds. The foundations for the six massive support legs are buried from 120 to 185 feet into the ground. That’s quite a lot of support, but it actually wasn’t anywhere near enough to hold up the entire sphere. Not to fear, the imaginative Disney team came up with an ingenious solution. What was it? Split it apart! The sphere you see is actually comprised of two parts; the upper part sits on top of a “table” supported by the six legs, while the bottom half is suspended underneath.
3. All Those Triangles
The exterior of Spaceship Earth is made up of 11,324 silvered facets on 954 triangular panels. In theory, there should be 11,520 total isosceles triangles forming 3,840 points, but some of those triangles are partially or fully nonexistent due to supports and doors.
4. But What Are They Made Of?
The exterior panels went through a number of changes during the design phase, to determine their pattern and color. John Hench signed off on what is now the geometric design. An original idea was to have the triangular panels constructed from a reflective glass; the panels would produce unique daytime reflections from the sun and at night they would be backlit from long-lasting sodium light bulbs housed between the spheres. This approach, however, was scuttled after consideration of the costs, particularly the necessary maintenance that would be needed for the panels. Fiberglass or metal panels were next considered, with a specialized reflective coating. Imagineers considered coating the panels with satellite images of earth, so when completed it would appear as a general representation of our planet. The final concept called for a machine-like metal look, and ALUCOBOND was the material of choice. ALUCOBOND is two layers of aluminum sandwiched around a layer of polyethylene plastic and chemically bonded. It’s a space-age material, appropriately enough invented in 1969, the year man first walked on the Moon. A benefit of ALUCOBOND is its self-cleaning quality in the rain. With the material chosen, the next decision was the color. Metallic gold was the initial choice but dropped when Imagineers factored in the Florida heat and sunshine, which would retain heat inside the sphere and cause a blinding reflection to Guests below. Instead, silver was chosen, softened by opting for brushed ALUCOBOND panels. The triangles, attached to the inner sphere of Spaceship Earth via hidden rods, are one inch apart to allow for contraction with weather changes.
5. The Inner Sphere? Yep!
You may not know it by looking at it, but Spaceship Earth is actually composed of two spheres nested inside each other. The outer sphere is what we see from the, um, outside, while the inner sphere contains the tracks and maintenance rooms for the attraction itself.
To be mathematically precise, Spaceship Earth is not a sphere but a pentakis dodecahedron. A what? It’s not as confusing as it sounds, the pentakis dodecahedron is a variation of a geodesic polyhedron. OK, that didn’t actually make things any easier. All it really means is a shape made up of triangles that approximate a sphere. There, that makes much more sense!