Friday 20 May 2016

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

The Galaxy-class USS Enterprise (registry number NCC-1701-D), built by the United Federation of Planets circa 2359-63. The ship was commissioned and launched in 2363 under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, its only permanent commanding officer. The Enterprise-D was lost at the Battle of Veridian III in 2371, having served for eight years. It was destroyed in battle with a renegade Klingon Bird-of-Prey, although the Klingon vessel was also destroyed.

Class History

By the early 2340s Starfleet had found itself in need of a new type of starship to propel its exploration and science programmes further forward. The Excelsior class was still performing excellently after fifty years in service, but was starting to show its age. The Ambassador, although a solid design, had not been the jump forward in capability first envisaged. The Federation's borders had expanded significantly and the limits of explored space even further outwards, covering a significant swathe of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants of the galaxy. Faster and more powerful ships, able to operate autonomously for longer periods of time, were required. But there were some recruitment issues with crewmembers potentially spending many years away from home and their loved ones. This led to the inception of the Galaxy Project.

The Galaxy-class starship was envisaged as a major, paradigm-shifting design. These huge starships would carry over a thousand people, including civilians and families, to the furthest reaches of space. They would be equipped with weapons and sensors capable of handling any possible threat and they would be equipped for tasks ranging from deep space exploration to diplomatic missions to planetary evacuations. The design hurdles were formidable, with the warp core alone requiring colossal amounts of research and development. The Galaxy-class's computer system was also tremendously advanced: upon completion, it became the most sophisticated mobile computer in the entire Federation.

R&D of the Galaxy-class began in the mid-2340s. Around this time, in 2344, the Ambassador-class USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-C) was destroyed whilst defending the Klingon outpost on Narendra III from Romulan attack. This act of bravery and honour helped lead to the signing of the formal Klingon-Federation Alliance at Khitomer (a world itself symbolic for an earlier peace deal in 2293 and suffering another Romulan attack in 2346) several years later. Out of respect for the estimated 700 crewmen who lost their lives, Starfleet did not immediately commission a replacement Enterprise. When the Galaxy Project was formally approved, it was agreed that one of the first ships in the class would be named Enterprise instead.

The final design of the Galaxy-class took some time to pin down, with Starfleet being distracted by the outbreak of a long (if mostly low-intensity) war against the Cardassian Union. The Federation also had a brief conflict with the Tzenkethi circa the late 2350s. Finally, somewhere around 2358-60, construction began of the initial Galaxy-class spaceframes at Utopia Planitia Shipyards, on and above Mars. Twelve ships were first envisaged, but only six were built to completion, with the remaining six being held back for new technologies to create a second wave of vessels, due to enter service in the late 2360s. The first three ships to be commissioned were the USS Galaxy, USS Yamato and USS Enterprise (all in service by the start of 2364). Among the ships that followed were the USS Odyssey, USS Venture, USS Challenger and USS Magellan.

The Galaxy-class was immensely successful, furthering exploration at the edges of Federation space, responding rapidly to threats and flying the flag in every corner of space. However, the decision to allow families and civilians on board the ships proved controversial. In early 2365, an alien computer virus overwhelmed the systems of the USS Yamato and shut down the antimatter containment field, completely obliterating the ship and killing over a thousand people, including children (ST:TNG: Contagion). The USS Odyssey was destroyed in battle with three Jem'Hadar warships in 2370, sparking the long Federation-Dominion cold war. Fortunately, the Odyssey had offloaded her civilian crew at Deep Space Nine prior to the battle, but still hundreds of lives were lost (ST:DS9: The Jem'Hadar). The USS Enterprise suffered a series of calamities during its storied seven-year lifespan, including the deaths of dozens of crewmembers, before the ship was finally destroyed at Veridian III in 2371 (Star Trek: Generations), although civilian casualties were minimised thanks to a successful saucer separation manoeuvre. The fate of the Galaxy class may have briefly hung in the balance after the loss of half the ships in service less than eight years into the class lifespan, but the growing threat of the Dominion convinced the Federation to complete the remaining spaceframes and also commission many more. This proved tactically sound: although several more Galaxy-class starships were lost in the Dominion War of 2373-75, the class soon became the mainstay of Starfleet, finally replacing the ageing Excelsior-class.

Starfleet ceased placing families on its front-line starships following this time with the succeeding Sovereign-class of starships only holding enlisted Starfleet officers and civilian researchers in related fields.

The Enterprise-D encounters the Borg for the first time.

Operational History

The USS Enterprise was launched in late 2363 from Utopia Planitia Shipyards above Mars, under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. After a shakedown cruiser, the vessel was ordered to Farpoint Station to pick up the rest of her crew. During this mission the Enterprise made first contact with the mysterious species known as Q (ST:TNG: Encounter at Farpoint). The Enterprise-D soon found itself enjoying a career even more epic and storied than its predecessors. In seven years, the Enterprise initiated first contact with dozens of species, carried out numerous scientific and diplomatic missions and found itself tested against the best ships from other races. The Enterprise crew helped open (often-fractious) relations with the Ferengi Alliance (The Last Outpost) and also became the first Federation crew in twenty years to make contact with a Romulan starship (The Neutral Zone). During several subsequent confrontations (The Enemy, The Defector, Tin Man), the Enterprise acquitted itself well against the formidable Romulan D'deridex-class warbird, helping the Romulans choose the path of renewed diplomacy rather than military conflict.

The Enterprise also proved instrumental in helping resolve the Klingon Civil War of 2367-68 in favour of Chancellor Gowron, who favoured continuing the alliance with the Federation (Reunion, Redemption, Unification). Gowron's enemies, the House of Duras, were engaged in a secret pact with the Romulans. Their defeat ensured the continued Federation-Klingon Alliance and that the two sides would remain allied (a brief breakdown in 2372 excepted) when the Dominion War erupted.

However, the Enterprise's biggest test came in 2365 when it made first contact with the Borg Collective. Thanks to the machinations of the Q, the Enterprise-D was propelled over 7,000 light-years from Federation space in the direction of the Delta Quadrant. It made contact with a single Borg cube near system J25, which had been laid waste by the Borg. The Enterprise initially held its own against the Borg vessel, rendering over 20% of it inoperable, but in the process the Borg learned how to adapt to Federation weapon systems. The ship then became invulnerable. Eighteen Enterprise crewmen were killed and heavy damage inflicted on the the ship before the Q pulled the Enterprise back to Federation space (Q Who?). Starfleet immediately began researching new weapons and defences to use against the Borg, assuming it would be several years before the Borg became a serious threat, but less than fifteen months later a Borg cube (possibly the same one) arrived in Federation space. The single vessel cut a swathe through the Federation, destroying the colony on Jouret IV and obliterating thirty-nine starships at the Battle of Wolf 359. It also took Jean-Luc Picard prisoner and (temporarily) converted him into a Borg. The Enterprise crew recovered Picard and, using the neural link between him and the Borg ship, destroyed the vessel just before it could attack Earth (The Best of Both Worlds).

The Enterprise would continue to serve with honour and distinction until 2371. Whilst attempt to defeat a murderous El-Aurian scientist named Soran, the Enterprise-D was attacked by a Klingon Bird-of-Prey commanded by the vengeance-hungry Duras sisters. The sisters managed to identify the shield frequency used by the Enterprise and direct their weapons fire straight through the shields. The Enterprise retaliated and destroyed the Bird-of-Prey but the ship had suffered catastrophic damage to the warp core, leading to a cascade systems failure of the antimatter containment system. The crew evacuated to the saucer section, which was jettisoned from the rest of the vessel before it exploded. The saucer section successfully executed a crash-landing on the surface of Veridian III. The crew were subsequently rescued, but the saucer was unrecoverable (Star Trek: Generations). Many of the crew transferred to the new USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-E), which entered service within two years (Star Trek: First Contact).

The Enterprise-D's saucer section crash-lands on Veridian III in 2371.

Ship Overview

The Enterprise-D was a Galaxy-class starship. It was launched in 2363 and destroyed almost eight years later, in 2371. The ship had an extremely busy and storied career, although of all the ships named Enterprise it had the second-shortest career (beaten only by the Enterprise-A and its seven-year mission before being decommissioned). However, from construction to destruction it had the shortest lifespan of any vessel named Enterprise.

The Enterprise-D was 642 metres (2106.3 feet) long, 473 metres (1,552 feet) wide and 190 metres (623.4 feet) high. It had 42 decks. It had a rated crew and passenger complement of 1,012, although depending on mission variables and guests this could fluctuate significantly. The ship was rated to carry 15,000 people in cramped conditions during a planetary evacuation. Thanks to its extremely wide saucer section compared to previous models, the Enterprise's internal volume was approximately twelve times greater than the Constitution-class Enterprise.

The Galaxy-class was the fastest ship in Starfleet, until it was overtaken by the Intrepid-class in the early 2370s. The ship had a safe cruising speed of Warp 8.2 and could sustain Warp 9.6 for several hours. In an emergency situation the vessel could briefly attain Warp 9.8. It also had one of the most formidable defensive arrays of any Federation starship, mustering ten phaser banks with wide arcs of fire and three forward-facing phaser cannons mounted in the nacelle struts and above the main torpedo launcher. The ship possessed three torpedo launchers. Like many other Federation starships it had the ability to split into two vessels during emergency situations, with the civilian crew expected to take shelter on the saucer section whilst the stardrive section engaged the threat. The relative long time it too to separate the sections and the fact that the saucer was deprived of warp power (making escaping a threat more difficult) meant that this ability was employed only four times during the lifespan of the vessel. It did, however, ultimately save the crew from the vessel's final destruction.

The Enterprise-D had three shuttle bays and a large number of auxiliary craft, including standard shuttles, runabouts and a Captain's Yacht.

Behind the Scenes

When Paramount decided to resurrect Star Trek as a TV series, it was decided that the show would take place on a new incarnation of the Enterprise (Gene Roddenberry briefly pondered simply directly beaming people from star system to star system, but decided that would make for poor drama). Originally dubbed the Enterprise-7, this was changed to the Enterprise-J when Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home introduced the practice of adding a letter to the registry number. After further refinement this was changed to the Enterprise-D.

The task of designing the ship fell to Andrew Probert, who had worked on the Star Trek feature films and co-designed the refit version of the ship. Probert found the task rather more straightforward than it could have been: whilst working on The Motion Picture he'd drawn an idea for a radically more advanced and futuristic Enterprise. When he went to work on TNG he hung the picture in his office. Writer David Gerrold spotted it and suggested that Gene Roddenberry take a look. Roddenberry liked it and approved it pretty quickly.  The biggest modifications from the original design were rethinking the engines to look better and to permit the ship to be capable of splitting in two.

Two shooting models were built, a small two-footer for long-shots and a six-foot large model for close-ups. However, the six-foot model was quite large and unwieldy to shoot. In Season 3 a four-foot interime model was introduced which became the shooting mainstay. However, the four-footer could not separate and, for reasons of cost, writers were encouraged to have shots featuring this model. This explains why saucer separations no longer took place after the third season. At the end of the seventh season the four-foot model was partially rebuilt with an extra nacelle and weapons to become the futuristic Galaxy-class variant seen in the ST:TNG series finale. These changes were reversed for the model's re-labelling and appearance as the USS Odyssey and USS Venture in Deep Space Nine's second and fourth seasons.

A CG Enterprise-D was built for some shots in Star Trek: Generations and then upgraded for use on Deep Space Nine, particularly during the numerous battle sequences during that show's sixth and seventh seasons. Controversially, the Enterprise-D made a cameo appearance in the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2004, making it actually the most recent prime timeline Enterprise to appear in Star Trek.

Appearing in all 178 episodes of ST:TNG, one episode of DS9 and one of Enterprise, along with one feature film and dozens of video games, the Enterprise-D is by far the most frequently-used, filmed, photographed and shot Enterprise to appear in the entire Star Trek franchise. Ironically, according to the franchise's timeline it had the shortest lifespan at less than eight years (the Enterprise-A arguably served for a shorter period of time, but it was retired from service rather than destroyed).

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