Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Experience with Mission Space

There are several rides and attractions at Walt Disney World that I don’t care for:  Magic Carpets of Aladdin, TriceraTop Spin, O Canada, Wonders of China to name a few.  Definitely not a fan of Stitch's Great Escape.  But, I’ll go on these if someone in my group wants to do it.  However, there is one attraction that I will not ride…ever again.  “Again” implies that I have done it.  That attraction is Mission: SPACE.  You’re probably thinking “why”; it seems odd to ban such a popular attraction permanently especially now that there is a tamer version.  My dislike of the attraction has nothing to do with the attraction so much as it as to do with my memory associated with that experience.  
In early 2006, my husband and I took our son, then 3, on his first trip to Walt Disney World.  It was a milestone and one marked equally special when we found out two weeks before the trip that we were pregnant.  I estimate I was probably no more than 6 weeks along.  Nothing too significant to change my stamina or energy level.  Didn’t really think too much about it, to tell the truth.  So when we arrived at Epcot, we knew we wanted to go on the newly opened, much hyped Mission: SPACE.  You see, both my husband and I work at NASA and given the attraction’s collaboration with NASA, we wanted to see what it was all about.  

Despite the caution warnings and spiels prior to the ride, I decided to go on it.  The conversion in my head went something like this:  “you work at NASA, you can do this…no problem”.  What I really should have heard was “you work at NASA as an analyst, you dummy, you’ve never been on a motion based simulator, you don’t touch flight hardware…and oh, besides, you’re pregnant and you’re equilibrium is probably really messed up right now”.  I didn’t listen and went on the full-up motion based ride.  I am proud to say that I didn’t lose my lunch, but it was very touch and go for a while.  I couldn’t get out of the capsule fast enough, and when I did, the ground was not so stable.  Once I found my bearings, I met back up with my son and husband (we had done child swap) in the game area (Advanced Training Lab) to rest my head.  That didn’t help.  Ate lunch.  That didn’t help.  I felt like I had just woken up from a night of excessive drinking.  It was like a really bad hangover and I could not shake.  Awful is really the only way to describe the feeling.  Finally, I went back to the room to sleep it off.  Didn’t help too much, and I remained messed up the rest of the day.  

I should have read Wikipedia’s definition of the ride mechanics:  “The attraction is a multiple-arm centrifuge that achieves the illusion of acceleration by spinning and tilting sealed capsules during the four-minute "mission." Fans blow air gently at riders to help avoid motion sickness, and a magnified display in front of each rider simulates a window to space with high-resolution computer-generated imagery. The attraction exposes riders to forces up to 2.5G, more than twice the force of gravity at the Earth's surface (effectively multiplying a rider's weight by 2.5).”  Yep, that explains it all!

I don’t know if my reaction to the experience had anything to do with the pregnancy, or if I am overly prone to motion sickness (didn’t think I was); but in either case the memory of that experience is so bad that I won’t go on the attraction again; even the Green team version which opened a few months after our visit.  As anyone who has ever experienced it, you don’t want to be sick on a Disney vacation.  Even for a day.  It stinks.  

I am disappointed that my experience was so negative, because from what I recall and can review on YouTube, the attraction is amazingly realistic.  I have been very fortunate to have worked in the mission control center complex during many shuttle flights in the last few years of the Shuttle program.  I’ve been even more fortunate to sit on console with one of the most amazing female astronauts in the astronaut corp.  How she described the launch sequence experience from the crew compartment is very similar to what a guest would experience on Mission: SPACE.  I especially like the detail of the birds soaring over the launch platform just prior to launch.  They do that all the time and are recognized as a hazard to launch vehicles.  Big turkey vultures soar over the launch complex, catching the updrafts of wind.  (Did you know a Space Shuttle has impacted with one during a launch before?  Let’s just say, that’s not a good thing for the bird or the vehicle).  Also, the chatter you hear prior to, and during the launch sequence, is similar to the voice loop chatter that is heard in the control centers.  Everyone in the control centers, whether you are in front room or back room, has a headset and can monitor many voice loops at one time which is why you hear multiple conversions just before main engine start and lift off.  At launch, on the screen, a plume of white smoke billows up from below you.  Your ship is mounted on tons of highly explosive solid rocket fuel, after all!  The whole sequence is amazingly detailed and quite accurate.

The Disney Imagineers collaborated well with NASA to get the experience correct and they did hit the mark on many aspects.  It’s a good attraction and one that shouldn’t be missed if you like thrill or motion based rides.  By all accounts, the tamer version appears to appease those less inclined for a thrill, but who still want to experience it.  For me, for now, I’m going to have to pass on it and hang out in the Advanced Training Lab.   

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