May 1998 – October 2003
Tomorrowland – The American Space Experience could be found at the front of Tomorrowland, on the lower level of the former Circarama building. Today, this space is part of the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters attraction, gift shop, and fast pass distribution area.
After decades of slow change and a little loss of identity, Tomorrowland went through a dramatic overhaul in the 1990s. As part of this transformation, Disney wanted to bring new life to the land, without losing Walt’s vision of celebrating technology and space travel. Thus, the American Space Experience was born.
This new walkthrough exhibit would celebrate the space program, educate visitors, and excite a new generation of fans. The attraction wouldn’t be a ride, but a self-guided journey through the final frontier.
Each corner of this large space hall had something different to offer. Visitors could see models of real space equipment, like the X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle, the AX-5 space suit, and the Pathfinder rover. If mere models didn’t catch your interest, you could also see a real moon rock, brought to earth by Apollo 16 in 1972.
Other exhibits within the hall included interactive features. Guests could find out how much they weighed on different planets, follow modules about different jobs and components of space travel, and test their knowledge about NASA and the space program.
As Disneyland moved away from walkthrough exhibits in favor of faster, more high-tech thrill rides (especially in Tomorrowland), the American Space Experience quickly fell out of place. Instead, Disney decided to use the valuable real estate as part of a new interactive attraction: Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. The American Space Experience closed in 2003, and Buzz Lightyear opened just over one year later.
The American Space Experience received almost universal praise for its educational exhibits and murals. However, families visiting the park weren’t so interested in a comprehensive space lesson, so the exhibit never became very popular.