The History of The Astrosphere, Funtown Splashtown’s Most Unique Ride in Saco, Maine
I remember the first time I walked by the Astrosphere during my first ever trip to Funtown USA back in 1982, before there was such a thing as Splashtown, Dragon's Decent, Excalibur, or even Thunderfalls log flume. I was 11-years-old and the booming sounds coming from inside the dome had me both curious and cautious. No one would tell me what was inside. After some coaxing, I decided to ride the Astrosphere and it was an experience that lives with me 40 years later.
If you have never ridden the Astropshere, it's unique to Funtown and you won't find it anywhere else. If you want to be surprised and find out what's inside on your next visit, stop here! I'm about to tell you what makes this ride so unique and how some of the magic is made.
Jay Cote from Saco used to operate the Astrosphere and he described it best on the theme park fan site Theme Park Critic back in 2006:
The Astrosphere, a flat-running dark ride was opened in 1976 at the time, and since then has undergone few changes, almost all of them effects-wise. The Eli-Bridge scrambler is an original, the 75ft. diameter vinyl dome is quite aged but still in great shape, adding to the mystery of just whats inside, while at the same time providing a wonderful "canvas" for the operators to paint with lighting effects and laser equipment. The soundtrack "Fire On High" by Electric Light Orchestra is a custom remix edited by the rides former owner an individual who is currently a park VP and director of maintenance. This soundtrack is pumped into the dome by a 6.1 channel truesurround sound system powered by Klipsch LaScala Speakers and a Klipsch subwoofer. Add to that a few dozen lighting effects and numerous Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow lasers, you have a ride that no other imitator can come close to. In 1992, a fire severely damaged the entrance to the ride including the custom control panel, dome, entrance tunnels, and some equipment. Some equipment on that side survived and still operates today, the dome was patched, tunnels rebuilt with fire protection systems, and the control panel was recreated. One of the unique features of the Astrosphere and quite possibly the most commented, was our array of 9 35mm slide projectors, mounted on and off the ride displaying space-themed images and other completely abstract things such as shapes and people. These unfortunately have been in service for such a long time that they no longer function properly and have been permanently removed.
Since Jay wrote that in 2006, several of the Astrosphere's old slide images have made a comeback, including the creepy skull face. They've been digitized now and displayed with modern projectors.
The music is still the same after over 40 years as well because it simply would not be the Astrosphere without the signature music by ELO.
Up until 2018, at the end of each season, the entire ride was disassembled and the dome deflated. Here's a view of the ride you never saw.
The vinyl dome was replaced by a permanent concrete dome for the 2019 season. The old vinyl domes only lasted for about 15 years before they had to be replaced and took a lot of work to erect and keep inflated. The new dome is pretty much maintenance-free.
But I still remember the days of the creepy skull guy and the somewhat psychedelic images that were a total product of the time when the Astrosphere first debuted in 1976. Several of them have made a return in recent years.
Thanks to Jay, here's a look at all the old slides that used to be projected on the dome. Some are still used, some you may have never seen before.
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