Yesterland
Photo of the American Space Experience sign
The American Space Experience
Celebrating 40 Years of NASA

You’ve just finished your Rocket Rods ride. What are you going to do next? How about visiting The American Space Experience, Celebrating 40 Years of NASA? It’s right at the exit from Rocket Rods, below the 1998 Tomorrowland mural.

Photo of the American Space Experience, below the 1998 Tomorrowland mural
The American Space Experience, below the 1998 Tomorrowland mural

Okay, this isn’t the most thrilling experience in the park. This 2,500-square-foot exhibit is more like visiting a corner of the Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, New Mexico, than visiting the world’s greatest theme park. But if you take the time to examine the exhibits, they really are interesting. Unlike the exhibits in many science museums, these NASA exhibits are up-to-date.

Photo of a model of the Mars Pathfinder and the rover Sojourner
A model of the Mars Pathfinder and the rover Sojourner

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory used models of Pathfinder and Sojourner to prepare for the 1997 Mars mission. You can see those models here at the exhibit.

Photo of a model of the rover Sojourner (close-up)
Close-up of the six-wheeled rover Sojourner

JPL named the six-wheeled robotic rover “Sojourner” in honor of Sojourner Truth, 19th-century American abolitionist and champion of women’s rights.

Photo of a model of the X-33 reusable launch vehicle at the American Space Experience
A model of the X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle
Photo of a prototype AX-5 space suit at the American Space Experience
A prototype AX-5 space suit

Take a look at the large model of the X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), and read all about it. It’s NASA’s first new spaceship design in 25 years. You’ll read that it could replace the current Space Shuttle. You know those big external fuel tanks on the Space Shuttle? The idea is that the X-33 RLV won’t need them. It’s called a “single stage to orbit” (SSTO) design.

Check out the actual moon rock. The rock was retrieved by the crew of the Apollo 16 mission in April 1972. There’s no line to see it. It’s a sample of breccia, encased in a clear plexiglass pyramid.

Take a look at the AX-5 space suit. It’s a prototype for an advanced, hard-shell suit for use on the International Space Station. This all-metal, high-pressure suit will finally allow astronauts to exit from their spacecraft into space without first having to breath pure oxygen for several hours.

Photo of displays at the American Space Experience
Have fun examining exhibits about astronauts and space travel.

The American Space Experience is pretty interesting, eh?

Photo of 'How much would you weigh?' scale
How much would you weigh on Jupiter?

The American Space Experience opened in 1998 as part of the 1998 Tomorrowland redo. More than any other attraction from that redo, The American Space Experience was consistent with Walt Disney’s original intent for Tomorrowland, as described in 1955 dedication placque for Tomorrowland:

TOMORROWLAND

A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying man’s achievements... a step into the future, with predictions of constructive things to come.
 
Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals: the Atomic Age, the challenge of outer space, and the hope for a peaceful and unified world.

Walt Disney

The American Space Experience was genuinely about the “challenge of outer space,” and was genuinely educational. But most people who spend hundreds of dollars to take their family to Disneyland for the day aren’t looking for genuinely educational science museum exhibits.

In some ways, the The American Space Experience was reminiscent of early Tomorrowland exhibits like Monsanto Chemical Company’s Hall of Chemistry (1955-1966) and Kaiser Aluminum’s Hall of Aluminum Fame (1955-1960). Such corporate exhibits allowed Walt Disney to fill the space in Tomorrowland until he could afford to replace them with unique attractions that were both educational and entertaining, such as Adventure Thru Inner Space and the Carousel of Progress.

Photo of FASTPASS distribution for Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
FASTPASS distribution for Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

The The American Space Experience lasted until 2003, when it was closed down for the construction of the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride. The FASTPASS distribution area for Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and part of the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride now occupy the space that had been The American Space Experience.

By the way, NASA’s X-33 program, which began in 1996, was cancelled by NASA in 2001—even though construction of the prototype was around 85% complete. There were numerous technical difficulties. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be another Reusable Launch Vehicle in the future.


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© 2007-2012 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated February 1, 2013.

Photo of the American Space Experience sign: 2000 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of the American Space Experience exterior at night: 2000 by Allen Huffman.
Photo of a model of the rover Sojourner (close-up): 2003 by Bryan Pugh.
Photo of a model of the Mars Pathfinder and the rover Sojourner: 2000 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of a model of the X-33 reusable launch vehicle: 2000 by Allen Huffman.
Photo of a prototype AX-5 space suit: 2000 by Allen Huffman.
Photo of displays at the American Space Experience: 2000 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of the scale at the American Space Experience: 2003 by Bryan Pugh.
Photo of FASTPASS distribution for Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters: 2005 by Allen Huffman.