5 Fun and Interesting Facts About Spaceship Earth
Next to Cinderella Castle, there is perhaps no structure that’s more symbolic of Walt Disney World than the geodesic sphere of Spaceship Earth. The ingenuity and elegance of the breathtaking structure is only matched by the richly detailed and immersive attraction inside – a journey through time that allows us to explore the history and wonder of communication. Join us as we explore 5 intriguing facts and interesting tidbits about this, our Spaceship Earth.
1. A Sorcerers Wand and a Lofty Milestone
Let’s start with a quick trivia question. Can you name the tallest attraction that has ever existed at Walt Disney World? Did you say Cinderella Castle? Nope. What about the Tower of Terror? Uh-uh. How about Expedition Everest? Now we’re getting somewhere. Expedition Everest does indeed hold the title of Tallest Attraction…today, but the all-time leader is…surprise…Spaceship Earth! OK, I guess you saw that coming. “But hold on” I can hear you saying. “I know they’ve refurbished the inside several times, but they’ve never changed the actual sphere…much less made it smaller???” And yes, that’s true…but let me take you back to the year 1999. As part of the upcoming millennium celebration, Spaceship Earth got a new decoration. That’s when the infamous Mickey Sorcerer Hand was added to the structure. The massive wand featured a giant “2000” to commemorate the millennium, and it brought the height of Spaceship Earth up to a staggering 257 feet, making it more than 20% taller than the Tower of Terror (the tallest attraction in Walt Disney World at the time). The wand was eventually removed in 2007, restoring Spaceship Earth to its former height of 180 feet, But, for a few short years, Spaceship Earth did indeed hold the lofty title of Tallest Attraction at Walt Disney World.
Interestingly, one unique addition was required for the wand. The FAA requires structures over 200 feet tall to have a warning beacon, to alert low-flying aircraft. It’s for this reason that the Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest are only about 199 feet tall; the addition of a flashing red light to either of them would ruin the theming of the attraction. However, having a blinking red light on a wand seemed perfectly normal, so a red warning beacon was installed on top of the wand, making Spaceship Earth the only Disney attraction to be so modified. And, one final note here before we move on, as iconic as the Mickey Wand was, he actually never held a one in the Sorcerers Apprentice scene in Fantasia. But he did wear the gloves.
2. Some Familiar Looking Animatronics
Hundreds of Animatronic figures have been created for Disney attractions over the years, so many in fact that once in a while the same molds are used for newer figures (a great time-saving measure that Guests would never notice). In the case of Spaceship Earth, careful inspection will reveal that many of the Animatronic figures found inside bear a striking resemblance to several of the Presidents residing in the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom! For example, the tall priest standing next to the pharaoh in the Egypt scene is none other than William Howard Taft.
Zachary Taylor (our 12th president) can be seen as the Centurion soldier in the Rome scene.
The Gutenberg printing press scene features two Presidents, James Buchanan (shown here) and Andrew Jackson, who portray Gutenberg and his assistant respectively.
John Tyler can be spotted as one of the scholars in the Islamic scene…
…while in the Renaissance scene, the mandolin player is actually Dwight D. Eisenhower.
And for an extra bit of fun, see if you can recognize the lira da braccio player in the same scene. That’s daughter Patty from the Christmas scene in the Carousel of Progress!
3. The Mighty Mastodons
Spaceship Earth is 180 feet high and weighs nearly 16 million pounds. That sounds like a lot, but how much is that? For a point of reference, that’s about the same as 1000 mastodons! Mastodons? Yep, that very same creature you see being hunted by prehistoric man in that first lightning-illuminated scene…and for the record, no, that’s not a wooly mammoth. Fun fact: if you were to line up 1000 mastodons trunk to tail, they would form a line leading all the way over to Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom! No doubt they’re there to pay a visit to their modern-day ancestors, the elephants.
4. The Giant Golfball
The sphere itself is an astounding 165 feet in diameter. That’s pretty big! But let’s put that into perspective. You may have heard the oft-repeated bit of trivia that says if you shrunk Spaceship Earth down to the size of a golfball, the average sized person hitting it would be 1.3 miles tall!
Pretty cool! But how far could you hit that ball? Well, if you’re an average golfer and aimed toward the Atlantic Ocean, you’d hit it a good sixty miles out to sea. Talk about a water hazard!
But let’s look at this another way. If the earth were shrunk down to the size of Spaceship Earth, how big would that make the Moon in comparison? For comparison, let’s take a quick trip over to Mission SPACE…where you’ll find a model of the Moon right in the entry courtyard. If you were to scale the Moon to its proper size relative to Spaceship Earth, it would actually be about four times as large as the Moon at Mission Space, or about as wide as the inventors’ circle behind the Land pavilion!
But how far AWAY would it be if we were to keep everything to scale? If you were to position the Moon in its proper scaled-down location, you’d have to put it in the pool at the Swan and Dolphin, or the bridge over the waterway that goes to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. So yeah, the moon would be pretty far away. Seeing the Earth and the Moon like this was really does give us a sense of the vastness of space, and certainly makes that scene of the Earth sitting in a sea of stars at the top of our journey even more compelling. We truly are sitting here together on this little blue marble we call Spaceship Earth!
5. How Many Tiles?
We’ll confess that we fibbed a little bit when we called Spaceship Earth a sphere. Spaceship Earth is, geometrically speaking, a pentakis dodecahedron. Some of you may already know this, since it’s a common point of trivia, right along with “how many triangles are there on Spaceship Earth” (which we’ll get back to shortly). But what exactly IS a pentakis dodecahedron? For the answer, we’re going to dive into some geometry, but don’t worry, it’s not that scary. Our geometric journey begins with the dodecahedron, which is just a fancy name for a 12-sided solid. Think of the 12-sided die in your Dungeons & Dragons dice set. Each face on a regular dodecahedron is a five-sided pentagon.
With me so far? Great! Now, “pentakis” just means that we’re going to put a five-sided pyramid on each face, which gives you 60 triangles.
And…that’s basically it! But that doesn’t sound like Spaceship Earth, does it? No worries, what happens now is that you subdivide each triangle into 64 little triangles.
Now we’re getting closer! First, let’s blow this up (think of a balloon) so it’s more spherical. Now that we’ve done that, the last step is to put a tiny three-sided pyramid on each and every triangle and, voila…Spaceship Earth!
So technically speaking, it’s more proper to say that Spaceship Earth is derived from a pentakis dodecahedron. And yes, I’m getting a little tired of typing pentakis dodecahedron.
What does this all mean? Well it means that the surface of Spaceship Earth should be made up of 11,520 triangles. However, if you were to count them, you’d only find 11,324. So what happened to the missing 196? It turns out they were removed to make room for the support pylons and other structural elements. (And, here’s a secret, that includes a trap door located at the very top!) Easy, right? No? Well, we won’t blame you if you want to keep calling it the Giant Golf Ball.
That’s just the beginning of our Spaceship Earth journey. For more insight into this iconic Epcot attraction, be sure to check out the latest episode of the Celebrations Disney Podcast, where we take a deep dive into this beloved attraction. And be sure to keep an eye out for next week’s blog, where we’ll explore the hidden details and fun facts to be found inside!
In the meantime, you can discover more Spaceship Earth magic in our archived post!