Space Ship Earth

Tampa Steel Erecting was recently mentioned in this News Report about one of our most iconic projects.

Why do they call it that? Epcot’s icon was made in Tampa

by Brayson Kamm for WSTP News at 10

Space Ship Earth

It’s one of the most iconic symbols of Walt Disney World, and it was built in Tampa!

Each Wednesday this month, we’re going to tell you about something amazing your neighbors have created.

They’re famous around the world, but they got their start right here in Tampa Bay. You may be surprised, and you’ll definitely be impressed.

Why do they call it Spaceship Earth?

Everyone knows that huge silver “golf ball.” It’s the icon of Epcot at Walt Disney World.

But almost no one knows that world-famous symbol of an Orlando vacation was built here in Tampa.

“In effect, we made a tinker toy set that we shipped to the job site,” said Bob Clark, who runs Tampa Steel Erecting Company.

Just over 30 years ago, Clark and his family led the project to turn a set of blueprints into a building unlike any other in the world.

It was to become the centerpiece of EPCOT — Walt Disney’s “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.”

Original plans had called for a spire at the middle of EPCOT Center. But Disney designers switched to a “geodesic sphere” made of hundreds of triangles.

It was a radical, challenging design; inventor R. Buckminster Fuller had only really figured out how to build one about 25 years before.

All of the steel work — the sphere, the supports, even the spiral ramp for the ride tucked inside — got measured, cut, and welded by your neighbors in Tampa in a workshop along U.S. 41 near the port.

“We had a hundred thousand shop fabrication hours and a hundred thousand erection hours on Spaceship Earth,” Clark said. “I guess what I’d say is we’re glad we survived it.”

Completed sections were shipped from Tampa, down I-4, to the theme park. A towering crane put them together.

After all that work, another company installed the bright silver triangles that make up the outer skin and the incredible orb was finished.

Today, 954 triangular panels cover the “golf ball.” That’s just one of Epcot’s incredible statistics.

Inside that superb sphere a ride was planned to carry you through the history of communication. The ride was dreamed up for Disney by — surprise — author Ray Bradbury.

The ride is a non-stop parade of optimism about the future. But Bradbury was most famous for the novel Fahrenheit 451, which warns of a nightmare future where any homes with books inside are burned to the ground.

The name of this attraction, Spaceship Earth, comes from another brilliant mind: the man who developed the geodesic sphere — the basic design used to create this icon.

That man, R. Buckminster Fuller, wrote a book that reminds us we all live on this same fragile home drifting through the cosmos — a blue ball with resources and a history we all share.

He called the book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

The “Why do they call it that?” series on famous things that got their start in Tampa Bay wraps up next Wednesday.

Hear the stunning story of how folks started out selling 112 can openers, and turned that into a massive website and cable network in 96 million homes.

We’ll take you into the incredible St. Petersburg studios of HSN next Wednesday on The Morning Show.

Check out previous editions of this Emmy-nominated series at our “Why do they call it that?” website:


Tampa Steel Erecting Company is Florida’s oldest “surviving” structural steel Erector-Fabricator. Certified by the American Institute of Steel Construction and the American Welding Society they specialize in construction of steel buidling structures, simple steel bridges, and major steel bridges. The Company has received several accolades and has been involved in many notable projects in its long and successful history. Some of the Company’s more notable projects include the fabrication and erection of structural steel for the 39-story One Tampa City Center, Spaceship Earth and The Living Seas at Disney’s EPCOT Center, and arched banana shaped pipe trusses for Airside F at Tampa International Airport. Some notable fabrication only projects are 14,000 tons of steel for Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station #4, 1.4 miles of elevated people mover girders for the Omni Extension in Dade County Florida and the Acosta Bridge approach ramps for the Florida Department of Transportation.