With our recent look at the engineering process behind the creation of Space Mountain, I thought that now would be a good time to take a look back at the opening of the attraction itself courtesy of this very nifty program.
Space Mountain had opened at Walt Disney World in 1975, but it wasn’t until 1977 that it arrived in Anaheim. The attraction originally conceived for Disneyland was much different than the final version; its double-track layout would have occupied a much larger footprint and would have been contained in a show building behind a large facade. While Walt Disney World did receive a dual-track system, at Disneyland the Imagineers eventually decided on a single-track, self-contained circular building on a smaller scale than that in Florida.
When Florida’s Space Mountain proved to be such a hit, it’s not surprising that it was decided to bring the concept to Anaheim as well. As befitted such a monumental debut, a big grand opening celebration was held on May 27th, 1977, to unveil the attraction.
Most of the standard Disney park entertainment of the day was on hand – after the “Fanfaronade of Herald Trumpets” (now there’s a word that needs reviving), the Disneyland Band played The Star-Spangled Banner. Later, the Kids of the Kingdom performed a “Disneyland Musicale Interlude” for the rapt attendees. An outside group, the Long Beach Jr. Concert Band, tied things up with the Grand Finale – March of the Olympians.
Now, almost every Disney press event has celebrities on hand. But rarely are they that impressive these days, and they’re certainly not as impressive as the special participants at Space Mountain’s opening. All six living Mercury astronauts were on hand that day – Scott Carpenter, Gordo Cooper (remember that at this time, Cooper was on the Disney payroll as part of the WED team working on EPCOT), John Glenn, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton. Gus Grissom’s widow was there as well. After the ceremony, the astronauts piled into the rockets for a trip into the cosmos, and then returned to answer questions from the press.
Alan Shepard said that the ride was “spectacular with the way it duplicates the forces and vibrations of launch.” Carpenter called it “great fun,” and said that “the visuals are gorgeous. I recommend it to one and all.” There was only one awkward moment in the proceedings, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times from May 30th. Susan Donald, the Disneyland Ambassador who was presiding over things, turned at one point to the widow of Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom. “Mrs. Grissom, would you like to tell what your husband’s been doing lately?”
I’ll remind you that Grissom had died in the tragic Apollo 1 launchpad fire in 1967.
“Oh no!” she said as she realized what she’d asked. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Other than that blip, things seemed to go smoothly and Space Mountain had been officially inaugurated. Disneyland had received a shot in the arm with the new attraction, and fans looked ahead with great excitement to the next expansion – two new lands called Discovery Bay and Dumbo’s Circus…
Special thanks to Progress Citizen “Another Voice” for sharing this bit o’ historical ephemera with us…