A Ten Minute Guide to: The Enterprise (2009)
I loved these little featurettes in Death Ray. This one, from #18 published in 2009 just before the reboot movie came out, was one of my favourites.
It’s dinner-plate-and-three-Smartie-tubes shape is the most recognised spaceship silhouette on the small screen. It might have been treated like personal property by its frequently disobedient crew, but boy, what a ship: the USS NCC-1701 Enterprise.
Ever since the Royal Navy captured the French sloop L’Enterprise and renamed her HMS Enterprise back in 1705, there’s been a tradition of naming ships so in both the US and British navies (15 to date in Britain, plus four without the ‘HMS’ prefix, and eight in the US). The test shuttle was named Enterprise, Richard Branson is going to call his rich-boy rocket ship Enterprise, and it’s a practise that will be carried far into the future, or so it seems, for Enterprise is the name borne by some of the most famous ships in science fiction. None is more well-known than the NCC-1701 Enterprise, captained by Captain James T. Kirk. For five years this two-fisted Iowan romped about the galaxy, seducing alien princesses, blowing up Klingons and visiting different worlds with his friend, Mr. Polystyrene Rock. Such a good time did Kirk and co have, in fact, that in the Trek universe all the ships subsequently called Enterprise bear the code ‘NCC-1701’ in honour of Kirk’s stalwart vessel. With a new film looming, we too have decided it is about time to provide similar respect. Behold! The original USS Enterprise’s secrets revealed.
Why the funny shape?
Trek’s first art director Matt Jeffries approached the design logically. Basically, it’s to keep the crew safe. The saucer (which even on the first Enterprise could be separated, though it never was on screen) is where the majority of the crew accommodation and facilities are, the lower hull houses the dangerous engines, while the nacelles generate the warp bubble the craft needs to travel faster than light. All Federation ships follow this pattern.
And the little radar on the front, cleverclogs?
That’s the deflector array. It forms a sort of bow wave in space and stops particles travelling at faster than the speed of light obliterating the ship.
Hang on, Jefferies…?
Yeah, the utility tubes that provide so much dramatic scope in the shows are named after him.
How did they put all this on screen?
Richard Darin, Mel Keys and Vernon Sion made an 11-foot model of the ship from designs by Jefferies. It is this model that played the Enterprise and other Federation ships in the original series.
What does the NCC-1701 stand for?
It’s based on registration codes used by real aircraft. The ‘N’ is for planes registered in the US, the ‘C’ stands for Civil, the other C Jefferies added because he thought it looked cool. The ‘1701’ came about because, as he later said, the Constitution was the Federation’s 17th starship design.
Constitution? I thought we were talking about The Enterprise?
We are. I’m fibbing a little, Jeffries never called the class ‘Constitution’, in fact the ship’s dedication plate names the Enterprise a ‘Starship’ class. But Roddenberry retroactively altered this in one of his books, and it kind of stuck. There were probably 14 Constitution starships (like much of Trek’s internal detail, it’s contradictory). Though heavily armed, the Constitution was designed primarily for exploration, hence its designation as a heavy cruiser.
How fast is Warp Speed?
There are two tables of Warp Speed. The art supervisor/ technical consultant on all Star Trek bar the Original Series, Michael Okuda rejigged the one written in the 1960s. However, in all cases the series tended to ignore their bibles when it came to warp speed, and had the ships travelling at what is jokingly called ‘The Speed of Plot’. Basically though, Warp 1 is breaking the speed of light, with each factor above being an exponential increase. Warp 8, for example, is roughly 1000 times the speed of light. Warp 10 is theoretically impossible as the energy needed to reach it approaches infinity. The original Enterprise could travel at about Warp 9 absolutely flat out. Later ships attain progressively higher fractions of Warp 9, which is still a substantially faster.
How many Enterprises have there been?
There’s the seven detailed on this page. There was also one before Jonathan Archer’s, which is seen on a screen in The Motion Picture when Deckard is showing the Ilea probe all the ships named Enterprise. The Enterprise J of the 26th century featured as a computer graphic in Star Trek: Enterprise. There have been many alternate versions of various Enterprises in the franchise – the refitted Enterprise D with three nacelles from ‘All Good Things’, the warship Enterprise D from ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise,’ and the ISS Enterprise from ‘Mirror, Mirror’.
The original got blown up, right? How come Kirk got such an old model for the Enterprise–A?
Fans wondered how a new ship could be built so fast between Star Treks III and IV. Gene Roddenberry speculated that the Enterprise A was actually another Constitution ship, the USS Yorktown, renamed.
Yep. The USS Yorktown crops up time and again in Star Trek, probably because this was Roddenberry’s original name for the Enterprise. The name comes from the last major battle in the US War of Independence.
Ah, we fans. How we love cataloguing the minutiae of our favourite fictional futures, happily building coherent timelines from the scatterbrained efforts of entertainment execs. Star Trek was – just about – holding together, until JJ Abrams and his chums come along, and decide to reimagine the whole thing.
The new old Enterprise is the work of Ryan church and Jonathan Eaves. Gone is the functional-looking lines of the original design. It’s all fluid lines and bulbous protrusions, the hotrod of space. All the bits are there, but just in slightly different places. (If it looks a bit like the Enterprise E, then that’s because Eaves worked on that too). Question is, although the production crew state they want to preserve the canon and are taking the best bits from Trek’s muddled past, if they’re willing to monkey with the classic design this much, what else will change?
The Enterprises of Star Trek, as seen on TV…
Captain: Jonathan Archer
Class: NX (prototype)
Length: 225 metres
Captain: Robert April, Christopher Pike, William Deckard, James T. Kirk and Spock
Length: 289 metres/ 305 metres (post-refit)
Decomissioned: 2285 (scuttled)
Captain: Captain James T. Kirk.
Class: Constitution refit
Length: 305 metres
Captain: Captain John Harriman.
Length: 467 metres
Captain: Rachel Garrett
Length: 526 metres
Decomissioned: 2344 (destroyed in battle)
Captain: Jean Luc-Picard
Length: 642 metres
Decomissioned: 2371 (destroyed in battle)
Captain: Jean Luc-Picard
Length: 680 metres