|Walt's original concept was labeled "Rocket Ship Theater" on early plans|
After an audience with the Man in the Moon in his palace, the visitors entered a green room where everyone was served a piece of green cheese. The exit back to the fair was over a swaying suspension bridge. Hard to believe, perhaps, but grown men swore they had flown, if not to the Moon, then to somewhere outside the fairgrounds.
In 1953, as Disneyland was being designed, Heinz Haber of UCLA contributed to a series of articles in Collier's magazine on the subject of Man's Survival in Space. By then, Hollywood had produced films describing the challenges of a trip to the Moon: Destination Moon and Rocketship X-M (both
Walt Disney personally patented his concept for a simulated trip to the Moon—swearing that the ideas were his and no one else's. (Most Disney patents are "assigned" to Walt Disney Productions by their inventors.) The audience would be shown a cylindrical rocket, then led into a cylindrical room that they would assume was in the rocket itself. View screens on the floor and ceiling would be the only "windows."
|Mirrors made the rear-projection practical.|
To double capacity, two identical theaters were constructed. One group of 102 passengers would be halfway to the Moon as would-be astronauts were led into the second theater. The cabins were originally named the R. S. Luna and the R. S. Diana—R. S. for "Rocket Ship." In 1901, the Luna made Fred Thompson lots of money. He brought his show to Tilyou's Steeplechase Park in Coney Island and made even more money in the 1902 season. For the 1903 season, he built a dazzling new park and staged a publicity stunt in which an elephant apparently dragged his show from Steeplechase to the new Luna Park.
Collins was a solid choice of a name—an improvement over Floyd Graham, the captain in Rocketship X-M or Joe Sweeney, the name of the captain in Destination Moon—but it spookily predicted the name of Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins, whose rocket to the Moon was still fourteen years in the future. While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon for the first time, Collins orbited the dark side and then brought the spacecraft and his crewmates back to Earth.
The Moon shown on the viewscreens was a six-foot diameter model created by Roger Hayward, who had sculpted an even larger Moon for the Griffith Park Observatory. Rumor has it that Hayward's fee was rejected as too high and a crew at the Disney studio failed in a half a dozen attempts before Hayward was paid what he asked. The model was also used in three television episodes: Man in Space, Man and the Moon, and Mars and Beyond. Hayward worked for a Pasadena architect and would later co-write a book with Linus Pauling.
John Hench was the designer most associated with the Rocket to the Moon, which was sponsored by Trans-World Airlines, then controlled by Howard Hughes. Hench's early sketches struggled to put the simulator into a display rocket, but that idea was eventually abandoned. Hench's slim, cigar-shaped Moonliner was meant as a 1:3 scale model and the theaters hidden behind the "blast wall" of the spaceport's architecture were presumably inside other rockets. What kind of spaceport has only one rocket?
As hundreds of workers raced to finish Disneyland before its pre-announced opening day, a "careless welder" started a fire in the wooden Rocket to the Moon building, one of the last to be completed. The fire was quickly extinguished, and there were some who thought it had more to do with labor unrest than carelessness. The show was not able to open on Black Sunday but, following the script, comedian Danny Thomas was interviewed outside speaking as if he had just experienced the attraction. The show opened that Friday—five days late—due to a disgruntled electrician fouling things up, it was said.
The novelty of the show is hard to overstate. Nothing had ever escaped the Earth's gravity, and no human had ever experienced the vacuum of space. In 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik. In 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, beating American Alan Shepard by three weeks. While NASA focused on getting to the Moon, anyone could take a Rocket to the Moon at Disneyland. Douglas Aircraft took over sponsorship in 1962 and the show was completely rebuilt for Tomorrowland '67, reopening as Flight to the Moon on August 12, 1967. Mankind first stepped on the lunar surface July 20, 1969, and the simulator became Mission to Mars in 1975. The attraction closed permanently in November 1992.