The attraction was originally named Rocket to the Moon when it opened in 1955, along with the Disneyland Park itself. The ride was refurbished to Flight to the Moon in 1967. In 1975, the destination was changed to Mars because humans had already been to the Moon. During that time, the attraction was considerably dated.
The attraction was initially sponsored by McDonnell Douglas. After the sponsorship ended, logos referring to the company were removed from the attraction, but the outline of the stylized vertical stabilizer in the McDonnell logo still remains part of the former building's facade.
The show was designed in cooperation with NASA and was basically a revised and updated version of the previous attraction Flight to the Moon. Guests would now be launched on a spacecraft into space and then approach the surface of the red planet Mars.
Guests would first enter a viewing area known as Mission Control, which was modeled after a typical mission control center with chairs and control panels for about ten seated Audio-Animatronic "technicians" whose backs were to the audience as they moved their heads and arms. Facing the audience was the Audio-Animatronic flight director Mr. Johnson. He would then talk and show film clips to explain how humans had made numerous advances in space travel and manufacturing in microgravity, and also learned how to deal with the effects of space. The lecture was interrupted once per show by an intruder alarm caused by a large bird crash-landing near the spacecraft launch pad.
After the pre-show, guests would move on and finally board their spacecraft. Inside was a circular theater with stadium-like seating with circular flat screens on the ceiling and floor. During the mission, guests could look at the views from outside the spacecraft from either of these screens. There were also side screens that showed film clips or graphics. "Third Officer Collins" was the tour guide, and discussed the mission as the spacecraft explored space and Mars. Eventually, the ship was damaged, possibly by a volcanic eruption, and the ship had to quickly head back to Earth. The seats in the attraction would simulate the vibrations and G-forces from "Hyper-space" during take-offs and landings by filling up with compressed air. Finally, the spacecraft landed safely back on Earth and Officer Collins would then urge guests to return and visit again. As he explained, "there's a lot more to see on Mars".
The attraction at Disneyland closed on November 2, 1992, having it first removed from the most visitor documentation by 1991. One reason behind the closure was that the controversial attraction ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was to open in the building as part of CEO Michael Eisner's ambitious "Disney Decade". Along with Alien Encounter, The Timekeeper and "Plectu's Fantastic Galactic Revue" would have opened in the radical and richly-detailed "Tomorrowland 2055" concept.
However, the "Tomorrowland 2055" project was cancelled in early 1993 when the Disneyland Paris project suddenly found itself in almost a billion dollars' debt. Michael Eisner started cutting costs around the company, and was not happy with the estimated cost of the "Tomorrowland 2055" project, though he had liked the idea. Start of construction on Disneyland's New Tomorrowland was changed from Fall 1994 to Spring 1997, but Alien Encounter, The Timekeeper, and Plectu's Fantastic Galactic Revue never opened. The building remained unused until it officially opened as a restaurant, called Redd Rockett's Pizza Port part of Disneyland's New Tomorrowland on May 22, 1998.
Mission to Mars closed at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom on October 4, 1993. It reopened as the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter as part of Magic Kingdom's New Tomorrowland on June 20, 1995, along with The Timekeeper. Alien Encounter closed on October 12, 2003 and was replaced by Stitch's Great Escape!, an attraction based on the 2002 Disney animated film Lilo & Stitch which opened on November 16, 2004 and re-tooled many elements from Alien Encounter in a more light and comical context.