Disneyland opened Space Mountain early one day this week to give a special individual the opportunity to ride it for a final time — the designer behind the iconic attraction.
Before Wednesday, 87-year-old Bill Watkins — who resides in Long Beach — hadn’t been on the popular ride he helped create for about 13 years, according to the Orange County Register, which chronicled the retired Disney imagineer’s latest visit to the Anaheim theme park.
The trip was organized by 29-year-old Kyle King, a longtime fan of the ride who had recently befriended Watkins, the newspaper reported. When King found out how long it had been since Watkins went on Space Mountain, the roller coaster enthusiast decided to invite him to ride the attraction once more.
“This will probably be my last ride,” Watkins told the Register. “I suppose it’s goodbye.”
King contacted Disneyland and arrangements were made for the visit. On Wednesday, the ride opened early just for Watkins, who got to see his handiwork in a way most never experience the ride: with the lights on.
After going down the track once, he asked to go again. The staff obliged his request, and the second time, Watkins got to ride Space Mountain in the dark.
“It’s better in the dark,” he told the Register.
Hired by Disney in 1966, Watkins was the engineer who helped bring Space Mountain to life in the 1970s, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
The classic attraction opened in Walt Disney World in January 1975. It came to Disneyland two years later, opening on May 27, 1977. Astronaut Gordon Cooper, who took part in NASA’s Mercury 9 and Gemini 5 missions, served as a creative consultant on the team, according to Disneyland.
The ride tops out at speeds of about 28 mph — though in the darkened environment it feels much faster — and the track is about 180-feet tall at its highest point.
In recent years, it’s been transformed into Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy for the theme park’s Halloween Time, and was temporarily turned into Hyperspace Mountain, a “Star Wars” themed attraction.
Space Mountain is generally considered among the more popular rides at the park, typically garnering enthusiastic crowds of people who wait in long lines to get on the approximately three-minute-long attraction.