May 3, 2006

Disney to Offer a Milder Thrill Ride to Mars

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida -- Florida's Walt Disney World on Wednesday said it will offer a toned-down version of Mission: SPACE after two people in the past year became ill aboard the thrill ride and later died.

Visitors will have the choice of the original ride aboard a rocket simulator and a version in which the ride's centrifuge, which works to give people a momentary feeling of weightlessness, is turned off.

Disney spokeswoman Kim Prunty said the change was prompted not by safety concerns but by a desire to let more people experience the sensation of lifting off on a trip to Mars.

"No. The Mission: SPACE experience is safe as designed for people who heed the health warnings," Prunty said.

Al Weiss, president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement that a choice of rides will "encourage all guests to carefully consider posted health advisories when making their decisions."

Both people who died after riding Epcot's Mission: SPACE had serious underlying health problems, autopsies showed.

A medical examiner said that 49-year-old Hiltrud Bluemel of Germany, who suffered a stroke last month, had signs of severe and long-standing high blood pressure.

In June 2005, 4-year-old Daudi Bamuwamye of Pennsylvania lost consciousness while riding with his mother. An autopsy found that Bamuwamye had an undiagnosed heart defect that the medical examiner said put him at risk for sudden death under stress.

Warning signs and audio messages at the Mission:SPACE site address pregnancy, heart conditions, motion sickness and back and neck problems.

Prunty said new advisories will be posted to help people choose which version to take when the new ride makes its debut this summer.

Thrill ride fans say that although Disney press releases state that Mission:SPACE's G-forces are less than a typical roller coaster, the forces last longer than the momentary bursts on a coaster.