Sponsors: Bell System (1982-1984), AT&T (1984-2004), Siemens (2005-)
An opening day attraction, Spaceship Earth is a roughly 13-minute slow moving ride that takes guests on a journey through time to view the history of communication.
Though it still exists today, Spaceship Earth and it's post-show area has undergone many changes since the first iteration in 1982. The physical "ride" is built inside an 18-story geodesic sphere often referred to by guests as "The Epcot Ball." Though the actual ride system hasn't changed, the scenes viewed along the journey as well as the narration, music and theme songs have all changed quite a few times.
"Where have we come from? Where are we going?" Spaceship Earth 1.0 began with these simple questions and took guests through many scenes that have remained largely unchanged, even through to the current version of the attraction. After exiting the attraction, guests visited "Earth Station," a "working" post-show area that included EPCOT Center Guest Relations, the World Key Information Kiosks and previews of other EPCOT attractions.
Until recently, it was widely accepted that Vic Perrin was the original narrator of the ride, however, an interview in 2008 with Imagineer Marty Sklar changed that. In speaking to Lou Mongello (of WDW Radio) Marty stated that he didn't understand why so many people credited Perrin to the role and that instead the original narration was done by an actor named Larry Dobkin. To this day, however, many people believe that Marty was mistaken and the debate continues on.
In 1986 AT&T decided it was time for a change and Spaceship Earth 2.0 was born. Walter Cronkite was brought in to narrate the attraction, the script rewritten, a new theme song "Tomorrow's Child" added and some small cosmetic changes made including projections of children added to the descent finale.
1994 brought with it the first major remodel of Spaceship Earth. Technology was changing and AT&T saw the existing attraction as being representative of an "old" world. With that, Spaceship Earth 3.0 was born. Though the majority of the scenes of our history remained unchanged, those showing our current and future communication were largely updated. The script was rewritten, the theme song removed and Jeremy Irons was brought in to narrate. It was with this refurbishment that the original post-show, "Earth Station," was removed and replaced with "AT&T's Global Neighborhood." Guest Relations and the World Key Kiosks were retained but moved out of the post-show area into Future World. The new post-show featured hands-on exhibits of AT&T communication technology including a huge, larger than life telephone from which guests could phone relatives from inside a (relatively) sound proof booth.
In 1999, to coincide with the Millennium Celebration, AT&T once again updated the post-show. The original "Global Neighborhood" exhibits were removed and replaced with a large tree made of thick steel cable sitting atop a transparent floor. Through this floor, guests could see the myriad of cables run to and from the tree to make it's interactive camera displays function. The post-show was renamed "The New Global Neighborhood."
In 2003, after nearly 20-years as the sponsor, AT&T decided to end its partnership with Disney and subsequent sponsorship of the attraction. Though it took some time for the attraction itself to see changes, the "New Global Neighborhood" shut down quickly after the announcement in 2004 leaving an empty post-show area for quite some time.
In 2005, Sieman's signed on to sponsor the attraction however outside of a name change on the sign, nothing much happened with the attraction until June of 2007 when it was closed for a major refurbishment... the largest in its history. Spaceship Earth 4.0 brought with it not only many changes to the scenes, script, narration (now Judy Dench) and score but the animatronics featured throughout the attraction were upgraded giving way to more lifelike and impressive scenes. This refurbishment also marked the first real change to the ride vehicles. Touch screens were added to be used in a new interactive finale featuring a photo of each guest taken during the first ascent. Additionally, "Project Tomorrow" opened as the new post-show featuring games, Siemens technology exhibits and kiosks from which to send photos and video from the ride's new finale.
Spaceship Earth 4.0 was officially complete and rededicated in 2008.