Saturday, 28 May 2016

Star Trek at 50: The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-E)

 The Sovereign-class USS Enterprise (registry number NCC-1701-E), built by the United Federation of Planets circa 2368-71. The ship was commissioned and launched in 2372 under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The Enterprise-E served with distinction during a Borg incursion in 2373, defeated a Son'a ship at Ba'ku in 2375 and helped defeat the Reman warlord Shinzon in 2379. It was still operational in 2387 when Romulus was destroyed by a hypernova, sparking a major shift in the balance of power in the Alpha Quadrant.

Class History

Whilst the Galaxy-class was undergoing its lengthy gestation period (running from roughly 2344 through to the first ships entering service in 2363), Starfleet developed a large number of new technological breakthroughs and concepts. These ideas were field-tested on a number of smaller ships developed alongside and after the Galaxy, such as the Nebula, Intrepid and Akira-class, not to mention the new weapon systems developed for the (controversially) combat-oriented Defiant-class, but it was decided in the early 2360s that a new class was needed to combine these elements into one large, front-of-the-line design.

The Sovereign-class was developed throughout the mid-2360s. The development process for the class was much faster than for the Galaxy for several reasons. Whilst the Galaxy was developed in peacetime, the Sovereign began its development during a period where the Romulan Star Empire was resurgent, where the Klingons had undergone a brief but tumultuous civil war and the Borg had emerged as a serious new threat to the entire quadrant. In addition, the Galaxy was designed to be the largest ship in Starfleet and entirely new types of propulsion, life support and computing power had to be developed to help it fulfil that goal. The Sovereign was, instead, designed to be the most advanced starship, building on those technologies already present in the Galaxy rather than having to design them from scratch.

The prototype USS Sovereign was launched for pathfinding trials circa 2369 or 2370. The next batch of Sovereign-class vessels were nearing construction when word came of the destruction of the Galaxy-class Enterprise at Veridian III in 2371. One of the under-construction ships was immediately given the name Enterprise.

The USS Enterprise orbiting Earth.

Operational History

The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-E) was launched in late 2372, approximately one year after the destruction of the Enterprise-D. After the destruction of the Enterprise-D, its highly decorated and experienced crew was expected to be promoted and scattered across Starfleet. However, Captain Picard requested that his crew be kept together and assigned to the new Enterprise. Starfleet and the crew agreed, apart from Lt. Commander Worf who accepted reassignment to space station Deep Space Nine (ST:DS9: The Way of the Warrior).

In 2373 the Enterprise-E responded to a Borg assault on Earth. Using Picard's knowledge of the Borg, gained when he was temporarily their prisoner during the 2366-67 crisis (ST:TNG: The Best of Both Worlds), Starfleet was able to destroy the Borg vessel. A Borg sphere ejected from the main cube and travelled back in time to 2063 to try to prevent First Contact between Earth and Vulcan, thus preventing the founding of the Federation. The Enterprise-E was able to pursue and stop the plan in its tracks, resetting the timeline (Star Trek: First Contact).

With the outbreak of the Dominion War in late 2373, the Enterprise-E was assigned to support duties. The Sovereign class had the strongest offensive arsenal in Starfleet, but as there were relatively few of the ships in service or under construction Starfleet preferred to depend on the Galaxy-class as its heavy capital design of choice. The Sovereigns were deployed only where the heaviest punches were needed and it was unlikely they would be lost. Although this meant that the Federation didn't lose any of the class at the disastrous Second Battle of Chin'toka in 2375 (when some 300 Federation, Klingon and Romulan ships were destroyed by the Dominon and their Breen allies in arguably the worst defeat of the war), it also meant that the design failed to see much action. The class was notably absent during Operation Return, the largest battle of the war, the First Battle of Chin'toka and even the final assault on Cardassia Prime at the end of the war. Controversially, in 2375 Starfleet decided to redeploy the Enterprise-E to diplomatic duties well away from the front line.

During these duties, the Enterprise-E was ordered to allow the Son'a to forcibly relocate the inhabitants of the planet Ba'ku against their will. Captain Picard defied orders and forced the Son'a to abandon their claim. This resulted in tremendous controversy, as the Son'a later defected to the Dominion side of the conflict, but it was later ruled that Picard had acted correctly in upholding the principles of the Federation even in a time of war (Star Trek: Insurrection).

In 2379 the Enterprise-E was assigned on a diplomatic mission to Romulus, designed to help foster closer relations in the wake of the victory of the Federation-Romulan-Klingon Alliance during the Dominion War. However, the Enterprise crew discovered the Reman Praetor, Shinzon, had staged a coup and attempted to seize control of the Star Empire. Assisted by loyalist Romulan forces, the Enterprise-E was able to destroy Shinzon's flagship and kill him. The wake of this assistance, the Romulan Star Empire and the Federation entered a new and closer period of cooperation and assistance (Star Trek: Nemesis).

By 2387 the Enterprise-E remained in service, having served for almost twice as long as her predecessor. By this time Jean-Luc Picard had retired from Starfleet and accepted a new role as the Federation Ambassador to Vulcan. William Riker had assumed command of the USS Titan and Chief Engineer La Forge had become a leading science and propulsion expert. Command of the Enterprise-E passed to Captain Data, the first android to command a Starfleet vessel. The Enterprise-E lent assistance to the Narada, a Romulan mining vessel that had almost been destroyed mining decalithium in the Hobus system. The Hobus star had gone supernova, but the decalithium-rich asteroids and planets in the system added to the power of the nova. The supernova became a hypernova capable of travelling through subspace as well as normal space. The resulting explosion destroyed Romulus merely months after it began, and threatened to obliterate a vast swathe of the Alpha Quadrant. Ambassador Spock, using the experiment substance known as red matter, was able to collapse the hypernova back in on itself into a singularity, ending the threat to the rest of the galaxy. Spock, the Narada and its captain, Nero, were all lost and presumed killed in this incident. (Star Trek: Countdown and Star Trek (2009) ).

Ship Overview

The Enterprise-E was a Sovereign-class starship. It was launched in 2372 and remained in service fifteen years later in 2387. This meant that it served - at minimum - longer than the Enterprise-C (12 years), Enterprise-D (8 years) or Enterprise-A (7 years), but not as long as the original Constitution-class Enterprise (40 years) or the Enterprise-B (36 years).

The vessel was commanded by Captain Jean-Luc Picard ("surviving" several efforts to promote him) for its first decade in service before he retired from Starfleet altogether. By 2387 Picard's long-serving android second (and later first) officer Data had become Captain of the Enterprise.

The Enterprise-E was 685 metres (2,248 feet) long, 250 metres (820 feet) wide and 88 metres (290 feet) tall. Although 40 metres longer than the Enterprise-D, it was only half the height and width and had significantly smaller internal volume. In fact, it was even thinner and shorter than the Enterprise-C. The crew complement was estimated at somewhere between 650 and 700. The Enterprise-E did not have families or civilians on board outside of specialised and specific mission requirements, meaning it did not need as much as space as its predecessor. The ship launched with only 24 decks compared to the Enterprise-D's 42. However, circa 2376 the ship underwent a minor refit which enlarged the secondary hull and increased the number of decks to 29.

The ship was moderately faster than the Galaxy-class, capable of attaining Warp 9.95 for brief periods of time. Its armaments were superior, mustering sixteen phaser arrays and ten torpedo tubes. The Enterprise-E was armed with both photon and the higher-yield quantum torpedoes.

The Enterprise confronts the Reman battlecruiser Scimitar in 2379.

Behind the Scenes

The destruction of the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: Generations necessitated the design of a new Enterprise for the following movie, First Contact. The miniatures team had assumed that the ship would be replaced by another vessel of the same class (as had happened with the original Enterprise and the Enterprise-A) and had in fact re-labelled the Galaxy-class model with "NCC-1701-E" markings. In the event it was decided to build a new ship.

Herman Zimmerman and John Eaves designed the basic look of the ship, although the first pass had swept-forwards warp nacelles. Everyone liked this idea until someone said it looked like a chicken in a pan, at which point they moved the nacelles into the more traditional swept-back configuration. Rick Berman signed off on the design in early 1996, meaning that the model had to be built and shot with extreme rapidity. Fortunately, improving fabrication technologies meant that the model could be constructed much more quickly and much more cheaply than its predecessors. A CGI replica of the ship was constructed at the same time, with the movie moving between the two as required. Paramount was so impressed by this, unable to discern when a physical model was being used and when the computer-generated one was, that they mandated that all future movies would use CGI only for the ship models. Thus, First Contact marks the one and only appearance of the actual physical model for the Enterprise-E.

By the time Star Trek: Nemesis was released in 2002, the CGI model had been updated to feature more weapons, the reasoning being that Starfleet would up the ship's firepower as a result of the Dominion War.

The Enterprise-E, and indeed the Sovereign class as a whole, did not appear in Deep Space Nine or Voyager. The logic was that this was Starfleet's most advanced, cutting-edge design and the ship would not be used lightly in battles or on risky missions during the war. As a result, Nemesis remains the final appearance of the ship on-screen. However, a comic book was produced for the J.J. Abrams 2009 movie which tied the plot of that movie into the so-called "prime timeline". Declared canon by the film's writers, the comic reveals that the Enterprise-E remained operational and in service in 2387, fifteen years after launch.

Officially, the Enterprise-E is still the "current" Enterprise as far as the prime timeline is concerned. With twenty years since its first on-screen appearance, that makes it the longest-serving "current" incarnation of the vessel (compared to 18 years for the original Enterprise, 7 for the Enterprise-A and 7 for the Enterprise-D).

Meanwhile, in another timeline...

The Odyssey-class USS Enterprise (registry number NCC-1701-F), built by the United Federation of Planets circa 2405-09. The ship was commissioned and launched in 2409 under the command of Captain Va'Kel Shon. The Enterprise-F is 1,062 metres (3,484 feet) long, 374 metres (1,227 feet) wide and 148 metres (485 feet) tall.

Star Trek Online, a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, depicts the Enterprise-E being crippled by the Undine in the year 2408. The ship is able to escape, but has to be scuttled due to the severity of the damage done to the basic spaceframe. The game depicts the ship being replaced by the Odyssey-class USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-F) a year later. The Odyssey is the largest and fastest class of starship ever built by the Federation, featuring cutting-edge new technologies and weapon systems. It should be noted that Star Trek Online and the events in it are explicitly not regarded as canon, but unless future live-action projects are undertaken in the old canon (which the new 2017 TV series may or may not be), its events may be the closest we get to an official continuation of the prime timeline.

1 comment:

JD Woodman said...

This series of articles has been great! It's a shame no official retrospective has come out for the 50th anniversary.