Saturday 16 April 2016

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

Star Trek has featured many planets, ships and space stations as its settings over the years, but the most popular, iconic and enduring is one vessel in particular: the starship USS Enterprise. To date there have been seven starships to bear the name (and an eighth in a parallel universe). The first to appear was the Constitution-class USS Enterprise of the original series and the first three Star Trek movies, also known as the original, or "NCC-1701, no bloody A, B, C or D!". It is - arguably - the most iconic spacecraft ever created for television or film.

The Constitution-class USS Enterprise (registry number NCC-1701), built by the United Federation of Planets in 2243-45. It underwent several small refits before being almost completely rebuilt in a major overhaul in 2271-73. The ship was destroyed during combat operations with a renegade Klingon Bird of Prey over the Genesis Planet in 2285.

Operational History
This Enterprise, designated Naval Construction Contract 1701, was designed and partially built at Starfleet Engineering Headquarters in San Francisco on Earth. Final construction and assembly took place in Earth orbit. Construction of the Enterprise took over two years, from 2243 to 2245. The ship was dedicated and launched in either late 2245 or early 2246. The ship's first commanding officer was Captain Robert April. In 2252 April was promoted to Commodore and he was replaced as the CO of the Enteprise by Captain Christopher Pike. Lieutenant Spock joined the crew the same year, initially serving as part of the science team. The following year Pike took the ship on a famous mission to Talos IV (The Cage).

Christopher Pike commanded the Enterprise for approximately twelve years before being promoted to Fleet Captain. He left the ship in 2265 and was replaced by Captain James Tiberius Kirk, one of the youngest captains in Starfleet. Spock, by now promoted to Commander, became first officer. The Enterprise was assigned to a five-year tour of duty involving both exploring new regions of space and carrying out military, diplomatic and scientific missions within Federation space. This famed five-year mission is noted for the re-opening of relations with the Romulan Star Empire (Balance of Terror, The Enterprise Incident), first contact with the Tholians (The Tholian Web) and the Gorn (Arena) and several run-ins with the Klingons (too many to easily relate). This five-year mission also saw the Enterprise recover noted 20th/21st Century warlord and criminal Khan Noonian Singh recovered from cryogenic suspension. After a failed attempt to capture the Enterprise, Kirk chose to abandon Khan on the remote planet Ceti Alpha V rather than kill him, a decision he may have later rued (Space Seed).

Notable features of the USS Enterprise.

The Enterprise completed its five-year mission in 2270, returning to Earth for a thorough overhaul and refit. During the Enterprise's long career Starfleet had made highly significant improvements in starship engineering, weapons and propulson. The resulting 18-month refit (lasting from late 2271 to early 2273), which almost took as long as the original construction, saw the ship near-completely rebuilt. During this time James Kirk was promoted from Captain to Admiral and replaced as CO by Captain Willard Decker. The new-look Enterprise was deployed before it was fully ready to meet the threat of V'Ger, a computer intelligence that was guiding a massive starship towards Earth. Three Klingon battlecruisers and the Federation space outpost Epsilon IX were destroyed before the Enterprise crew was able to negotiate for V'Gar to depart Federation space (Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Willard Decker was reported lost during this mission, so was replaced by the newly-promoted Captain Spock as CO.

For the next thirteen years the Enterprise engaged in further diplomatic, military and scientific missions in Federation space and beyond its borders. However, the ship also became increasingly used for the purposes of training new crewmembers. In 2285 Kirk decided to personally accompany one such training mission. During this mission the Enterprise encountered the warlord Khan Noonian Singh, who had escaped from Ceti Alpha V by stealing the Miranda-class starship USS Reliant and a terraforming device known as Project Genesis. The Reliant ambushed the Enterprise and inflicted extremely heavy damage on the ship. The Enterprise managed to escape and return the favour, ambushing the Reliant in the Mutara Nebula. During the resulting battle the Reliant was destroyed and Khan killed. However, the Enterprise sustained heavy damage to its warp core and was unable to flee. Captain Spock sacrificed his life in a radiation-filled chamber to allow the ship to escape (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

The resulting explosion of the Genesis Device within a nebula resulted in the formation of a new planet and also allowed the resurrection (through means still not fully understood) of Captain Spock. Defying orders from Starfleet Command, Admiral Kirk stole the still-damaged USS Enterprise and took it to the Genesis Planet to rescue Spock. At Genesis the ship was attacked by a Klingon Bird of Prey commanded by Kruge. Kirk set the Enterprise's self-destruct mechanism to kill Kruge's boarding party. Subsequently Kirk and his crew were able to rescue Spock, kill Kruge and commandeer Kruge's ship to escape to Vulcan (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock). At the time of its destruction the Enterprise was forty years old, making it the longest-serving starship to bear the name.

The USS Enterprise undergoing its refit in Earth orbit, 2271-73.

Ship Overview
The Enterprise was one of (as of 2265) twelve Constitution-class starships built by the United Federation of Planets. It was the most advanced ship in the fleet at the time of its launch in 2245, noted for maintaining an excellent balance between speed, defensive capabilities and the comforts essential to keep the crew in good spirits for months or even years between stops at Starbases. The ship had sophisticated scientific and medical research facilities, as well as formidable armaments for when defence was necessary.

The Enterprise is 289 metres (948 feet) in length, 127 metres (416.6 feet) in width and 72 metres (236 feet) in height and has a crew of 430. The ship consists of approximately 20 decks, with the main bridge making up Deck 1. The ship has a single photon torpedo launcher and at least six phaser banks for offence, and powerful energy shields for defence. The ship has a cruising speed of Warp 6 and a maximum safe cruising speed of Warp 7. Warp 8 can be endured for brief periods, and Warp 9 for very brief periods at the risk of damage to the ship. The Enterprise's main computer was created by William Daystrom and at the time of launch was considered the most advanced ever built.

The Enterprise engaging in combat operations.

The Enterprise was designed with a forward saucer section, which contained the bulk of the ship's systems, quarters and departments, and an aft engineering section containing the engine room, cargo bays and main shuttlebay. Two warp nacelles are connected to the engineering section and provide the ship's FTL (faster-than-light) capability. The Enterprise had several shuttlecraft for auxilary duties, but most transportation needs were met by a series of transporters which could "beam" people from one location to another. In an emergency situation, the Enterprise's saucer section was designed to detach and operate independently, even undertaking an emergency landing on a planetary surface, although in the event this never proved necessary.

The 11-foot-long original model of the Enterprise, used in the filming of the original series.

Behind the Scenes
The Enterprise was designed by production designer Matt Jefferies, who had a background in aeronautical engineering. Jefferies, working in concert with Roddenberry, came up with the idea that the ship would be built in space and would never itself land. Roddenberry planned to have the crew get around by shuttlecraft but later came up with "beaming" as a way of avoiding expensive new model shots of the shuttle taking off and landing very week. A three-foot design model was built which Roddenberry approved and later kept on his desk, although it was used for some on-screen shots. A much bigger, eleven-foot long model was built for main shooting on the series and was used throughout the series. In 1974 it was donated by Paramount to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC (where it is currently being refurbished).

For Star Trek: The Motion Picture and later films, an all-new model was built from scratch and depicted both the refit version of the original starship and also its successor, the Enterprise NCC-1701-A.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I still remember the original trailer - must have been 10 at the time!
Part of our culture now.