I've only been on Mission:Space once.
If you are asking yourself "How on Earth are you going to write an article on an attraction that has been open for over a decade and you've only experienced once?", first I'd compliment you on the Earth pun, then I'd say that it's kind of the point.
When you talk to fans of the original Epcot Center and ask them their favorite attractions of the "glory days", you may get a few different answers. There are likely some people who were massive fans of Seabase Alpha. Some World of Motion gearheads. Heck, you may even have one or two crazy people like me who would break into song about a balanced diet. I'd be willing to bet that the two main answers that you'd get would be Journey into Imagination and Horizons.
We've talked about both of these attractions in varying degrees of length on this blog before, and likely will revisit them again in the future, so I'll not rehash most of that for now. What it does point out that plays a part into today's discussion is that Mission:Space had a LOT to live up to. It replaced the attraction that represented "The Future" in Future World. While Test Track was one of the first to break the traditional mold of Future World attractions, focusing on current design instead of history/future, I'd argue that Horizons closing was the real move that marked a significant shift.
When GE ended it's sponsorship of Horizons in 1993, there were plans on the table for a new renovation for the beloved attraction. New Omnimax films, new animatronics and scenes in the future section, a plan was ready to go to bring Horizons into the future. (see what I did there?) Head Man in Charge Mike Eisner decided that without a sponsor, the budget for the refurb was too big, so the plan was shelved and Horizons' fate was sealed.
I've written some of my feelings, a love letter in fact, about Horizons. It was the quintessential Future World attraction. It was the future in Future World. Replacing Horizons with something was going to be a tall order. We're talking about what remains THE best dark ride ever made.
It was however not too hard to imagine that a space pavilion could do a really solid job of replacing Horizons. Space was always in the plans for Epcot. Going back to 1978, the plan was always to include a space pavilion.
With the original budget for the park swelling and time running short, the pavilion was put on hold. Still, the material that was put out with the open of the park mentioned the coming space pavilion.
Space holds such a strong emotional pull for so many people. For my parent's generation, who came of age during the space race, and for mine who grew up watching the shuttle blast off, space held a spot in our imaginations that was rarely topped. Sci-Fi added to this, with Star Trek and Star Wars, 2001, and many other films, space was presented as The Final Frontier. A place of infinite possibilities.
I remember thinking about what the pavilion might contain. Space could be anything, just simple images of areas in space strike awe into me. I mean, look at these:
Horizons showed the possibilities of a colony in space, people living and traveling to a giant space station, performing science experiments, floating around. We went on a space chase around the station, playing on the heart strings of every wanna-be Han Solo in the audience. It seemed that a space pavilion that built on that legacy was going to be spectacular.
That is my reaction on finally getting a chance to ride Mission:Space. An infinite universe of possibilities and we're sent on an unrealistically quick trip to our closest planet. I didn't get it. I didn't understand the choice. It seemed so... close, utilitarian.
Now, I understand that we're decades away even today from making manned trips to Mars. I know that the men and women in NASA, Space-X, and others have massive technological hurdles to solve before we're setting foot on the red planet. I also know that you want something grounded at least in the semblance of reality in order to keep the suspension of disbelief alive. I get all that. I'm not saying a trip to Mars is not a valid and worthy goal for manned space-flight.
It just seems, and seemed back when it opened, so do-able. So close. Inevitable. It felt like trying to inspire people to look forwards to the day when all cars get at least 150MPG on regular gasoline. It is well worth investing the time and money into making this a reality. It's an important goal, and one that is reasonably far away (not counting electric and hybrids here) that it could be considered futuristic and not need to be changed in a few years.
But a trip to Mars? Not even some of the more exotic planets or moons in our own solar system? And the main thrill of the ride takes place in the first minute. Once you've felt the realistic push of gravity at takeoff, you've done the cool part of the ride. Sure, you slingshot, push a button, "go to sleep" for the 9 month journey to Mars in a matter of seconds, but that is all variations on the same feeling.
I'd also mention that the post-show area is a massive disappointment. If we're going near-term and near-Earth in the attraction, I'm not sure why the post-show doesn't knock us out with the rest of what is so incredible about space. We're looking at a couple games, ones that you are likely to play part of once and leave.
It could have been so much more. It should have been so much more. Heck, with a few minor tweaks I bet it could be more than it is today. If new trips were filmed, randomized like Star Tours, and new destinations were put in at random, that would be a start. Improving the post-show area could be everything that the current one is not.
Heck, this pavilion is sitting here, a giant waste of space (pun) and doesn't it look a bit like a planetarium, and close to the space pavilion? What if they just built a walkway from Mission Space to the Wonders of Life building, and made that pavilion a massive space-centric post-show area?
I'll admit, I'd prefer Wonders of Life to be a Life and Health pavilion again, but if it's just going to sit there empty shilling festival goods, I'd rather it be turned into the most amazing space pavilion imaginable.
Today's space program needs people to be inspired by space. We need people passionate about exploring the universe, we need them to help drive commercial spaceflight, we need them to vote for politicians who put importance on a strong space program. We need kids to want to look up from their phones and look at the sky in wonder. We need to have people dreaming of exploring the endless depths of the universe. Spinning them around really fast might be a small part of that. It could also be the gateway to so much more.