Friday 13 May 2016

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

The Constitution (refit)-class USS Enterprise (registry number NCC-1701-A), built by the United Federation of Planets circa 2283-86. The ship was originally supposed to be called the Yorktown, but was renamed Enterprise in honour of Captain James T. Kirk and his crew. The ship was launched in 2286 but was retired just seven years later in 2293, after the Praxis Crisis. It is the shortest-serving Federation starship to carry the name Enterprise and one of only two (so far) not to have been destroyed in the line of duty.

Operational History

The USS Yorktown was a Constitution-class starship, built in Earth orbit. Construction of the vessel was completed in 2286 and the ship was moved to the Spacedock station for final fitting and launch. However, the so-called "whalesong" crisis then erupted when an alien probe approached the planet and neutralised all Starfleet facilities in orbit, shutting them down. The crisis was averted thanks to the actions of the disgraced Admiral James T. Kirk and his crew, who had stolen the USS Enterprise (and subsequently lost it in battle with a Klingon Bird of Prey) earlier that year. Kirk's crew was exonerated and Kirk was given a two-grade demotion from Admiral to Captain, due to extenuating circumstances. The Yorktown was renamed Enterprise and given a registry chance to NCC-1701-A. The ship was launched shortly after Kirk was appointed commanding officer (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home).

The Enterprise-A suffered significant systems failures shortly after launch. It is possible that the ship suffered malfunctions as a result of the probe's activities, or the attempts to rush the ship's completion to meet the threat before the probe arrived. Whatever the cause, the problems were so immense that Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott had to oversee a thorough repair and upgrade of the whole ship. This was still in process when the Nimbus III hostage crisis erupted in 2287, forcing the Enterprise to go into a hostile situation without functioning transporters (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier).

In 2293 the Enterprise-A was assigned to escort Klingon Chancellor Gorkon to Earth to discuss a final peace deal between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. However, Gorkon was killed during this meeting and the blame put on Kirk's shoulders. Kirk's crewmates, aided by Captain Hikaru Sulu and the crew of the USS Excelsior, were able to exonerate Kirk and prevent a further peace conference on Khitomer from being attacked (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).

The Enterprise-A was retired, with the new Excelsior-class USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-B) being launched several months later (Star Trek: Generations). The ultimate fate of the Enterprise-A is unknown, although some sources suggest it was retired and served as a museum ship in Earth orbit for some decades afterwards.

The USS Enterprise-A just before her official launching in 2286.

Ship Overview

The Enterprise-A was a Constitution-class starship which was superficially identical to the refit version of the original Enterprise. However, being built from scratch with newer technologies meant that the Enterprise-A had some technical advantages over the older ship, including a more advanced computer system. Unfortunately, being rushed into service during the whalesong crisis and suffering an unplanned total power failure meant that the ship took some considerable time to recover and get back into service.

The Enterprise-A was 305 metres (1,000 feet) in length, 145 metres (476 feet) in width and 76 metres (249 feet) in height. Its crew was estimated at around 430 (similar to the pre-refit Constitution-class). The ship consists of approximately 20 decks, with the main bridge making up Deck 1. The ship has a forward-facing dual photon torpedo launcher and at least six dual phaser banks for offence, and powerful energy shields for defence. Compared to the original Constitution-class, the refit model is slightly longer and wider. It has considerably larger cargo bays than the original vessel, and a new and far more advanced warp drive capable of driving the ship past Warp 9 for longer periods (although Warp 5 remained the preferred cruising speed).

Although still a spaceworthy and capable design, the Enterprise-A suffered severe damage in its engagements with the smaller Klingon Bird of Prey design: although more compact, the Bird-of-Prey was capable of outflying and the outgunning the Federation's Constitution-class. At the same time, the Federation was starting to see the benefits (after several false starts) of the Excelsior-class, which was considerably larger, faster, more powerful and more heavily armed than the Constitution whilst also being capable of greater scientific research. The Federation seems to have made a tactical decision circa 2293 to retire the Constitution-class altogether and split its fleet design between the large Excelsior-class, the more nimble and manoeuvrable Miranda-class and the dedicated Oberth-class science vessels (along with a score of variant designs). Although some Constitution-class ships remained in service, most of them were retired over the next few years. The retirement of the Enterprise-A was particularly surprising, given that the ship was only seven years into its lifespan.

The Enterprise-A suffers a hull breach during the Battle of Khitomer.

Behind the Scenes

Matt Jefferies, the designer of the original Enterprise, developed a newer and more modern look for the ship for the planned Star Trek: Phase II TV series. However, after Phase II was cancelled and turned into Star Trek: The Motion Picture with a much higher budget, Gene Roddenberry authorised a much more thorough update to the design. A team including Richard Taylor and Andrew Probert created the final version of the new Enterprise which was used in the movie. The Enterprise's change of shape and appearance was described as being the result of a refit of the original series vessel.

The final shooting model, packed with light systems, was considered to be very impressive and has been cited as the best-looking version of the Enterprise. Unfortunately it was also very heavy, cumbersome and unwieldy. The effects team found that setting up shots with the Enterprise model was time-consuming and extremely awkward. When producer Harve Bennett and director Nicholas Meyer suggested using that the model pull double-duty as both the Enterprise and Reliant for The Wrath of Khan, the effects team had a collective panic attack and persuaded them that they could build and shoot a whole new model far faster and more efficiently than the Enterprise. When the team were told that the Enterprise was going to be destroyed for The Search for Spock, they requested permission to smash the model to pieces with a hammer. They were turned down, and with some dismay were told to label the model as the Enterprise-A for the next three movies. The model last appeared in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

After the Enterprise-A's first appearance in The Voyage Home, fans speculated how the Federation was able to build a new Enterprise so quickly. The easy answer was that the ship had actually just been renamed, with Yorktown eventually emerging as the commonly-given original ship name. However, fans were confused when the ship was retired just seven years later in The Undiscovered Country when her predecessor served for over 45 years. Various answers were suggested, including the one that the Yorktown had also been a refitted original Constitution-class starship and was also very old, although this does go against the implication of the ship being brand-new in The Final Frontier. Ultimately, it was concluded that the ship design had simply become outmoded and obsolete given the advent of the Excelsior-class.
The problems involved in shooting the refit/Enterprise-A model helped Andrew Probert when he developed the Enterprise-D for Star Trek: The Next Generation, although in the event the original Enterprise-D model was also deemed too large and unwieldy for easy shooting.


--- said...

Hey Adam, sorry this isn't related to this article, but is there anyway to follow all your forum accounts/postings? I see you pop up on Westeros and Dragonmount sometimes, but it would be neat if there was some way to see whenever you post under your username in a forum. Always a pleasure reading what you have to say. Cheers.

S.P. said...

There's no on-screen canon either way as to whether the A was a renamed existing Constitution class, or a brand new build. However, given that it would not really make sense to build a completely new Connie, at a time the shipyards were then equipped to pump out Excelsior/Miranda/Oberth classes, it stands to reason that the A is, in fact, an older ship that was refit around the same time as the original Enterprise (I think Kirk notes there were 12 in service, at the time of TOS). Yes, it has a much fancier computer system, but then so does the Excelsior, in ST:VI, versus it's initial appearance. This would mean it's much older than 7 years stated in this article. IF the ship was also retired, at the end of ST:VI then it would make more sense that the ship was just as old as the original Enterprise.

However, here's also no canon that the A was actually retired at the same time as Kirk and co. Kirk's final on screen log even states that the ship will become the care of another crew. Which suggests the ship itself carries on, after the crew have retired. In the Star Trek universe, it's quite plausible the ship was again renamed, when the Enterprise B was launched, and carried on a long service life. A Connie ship hull is quite visible in TNG Best of Both Worlds', Wolf 359 'graveyard' scene. That shows they were still in use 80 years later, even if thrown back in to service to fight the Borg threat. Just as it seems likely the B was renamed the Lakota, when the C was launched, the A could have continued as something else.

Which brings me on to my final point. Only 2 ships named Enterprise have not been destroyed? I count the 3. The A, yup. We see the E being repaired at the end of Nemesis. The B was not destroyed, just suffered heavy damage. There's no reference to the ship being scrapped/destroyed, later in the film. The appearance of the Lakota, in DS9, certainly would suggest that the B was renamed to that, as it has a very distinctive look, compared with other Excelsior class ships (which are seen throughout TNG). Of course, the real world reason is that they made irreversible changes to the Excelsior model, when filming Generations, but hey, fantasy speculation is fun.

But I love a good bit of ST hardware geeking. Nice article. :)