State Fair

Space Tower grounded for the rest of this year’s Minnesota State Fair

a tower that reads space tower rises next to the moon
The Space Tower rises next to the moon during on the first day of the Minnesota State Fair.
Ben Hovland | MPR News file

Updated: 11 a.m.

The Minnesota State Fair’s iconic Space Tower, soaring more than 300 feet above the eastern edge of the fairgrounds, won’t be taking any more fairgoers up for a ride this year after a wiring malfunction.

But the family that owns the historic attraction says they plan to have it back in operation next year.

Ben Kantor said the Space Tower started to malfunction on Sunday, when the controls suddenly reversed. 

“We were in the middle of a ride and it was coming down and suddenly decided to reverse direction,” he said. “So now when we push up it goes down, and when we push down it goes up. That’s not exactly how we want to run.”

Kantor said they ended that trip safely, in manual mode, and initially had hoped to get it fixed quickly.

“The rest of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday we had multiple people come out to look at the electronics, and they have determined that there is something wrong with the control wiring, but they don’t know what it is,” he said. “So at this point, we are going to replace the control wiring.”

But that won’t happen in time for the ride to reopen this year, Kantor said. The work will likely take place next spring.

The ride was built in 1964 and still runs on its original wiring, although many of the other components have been replaced. Kantor’s family has owned the ride since the early 1980s.

A sign tells visitors a State Fair ride is closed
A sign informs visitors about the closure of the Space Tower at the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

“It’s basically a big analog computer, and the elevator technicians and the electricians and the generator expert — they were in there digging around in the controls, measuring every single relay and wire. And they have determined that the lift motors are fine, and the generator is fine, and every individual relay is fine — but working together, they are not,” Kantor said.

Kantor said the ride draws 3,000 people on a slow day, and up to 7,000 on a busy day. In total, between 50,000 and 60,000 people typically ride the Space Tower at the fair each year.

The modernist icon is one of the tallest structures in the area and visible for miles. Passengers on the two-level, revolving gondola are taken on a brief three- to five-minute ride nearly to the top of the tower and back down. Tickets were $5 per person this year. 

The structure was fabricated in Germany, shipped overseas to Duluth and trucked to the Twin Cities for assembly in 1964, according to the ride’s website

It is one of a number of identical rides that were built around the world, and reflects the Space Race era of its origin. They’re known as gyro towers

An actual NASA astronaut, Josh Cassada, who went to high school in White Bear Lake, Minn., rode the Space Tower last Friday before the ride closed.

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