On Star Trek, a TV series that aired in the late 1960s, more than 400 crew members explored the galaxy aboard the USS Enterprise, which had a length of 947 feet and weighed 190,000 tons. In actuality, the starship was an 11-foot-long model made of poplar wood and vacu-formed plastic.

Star Trek Starship Enterprise studio model used in filming the original 1960s television series.

Film of the model appeared in all 79 episode of the original series (broadcast from 1966–69), and the model was donated to the National Air and Space Museum by Paramount Studios in 1974.  Forty years later, the Museum undertook a two-year project to restore the Enterprise to how it looked during the filming of the 1967 episode "The Trouble with Tribbles"—the last known modification of the ship during the show's production. Today the Enterprise is displayed in the National Mall Building. 

The conservation team relied on original images to identify the type of electric  plugs that needed to be replaced for the warp drive nacelles. The plugs were an outdated design, but, fortunately, restoration specialist Larry Berger found examples among his supply of old electrical parts. 

The original model has a mechanism that utilized mirrors, motors, and Christmas lights to create a spinning effect inside the nacelle domes. The restored version uses LED bulbs, which last longer and illuminate at cooler temperatures. 

Careful scrutiny revealed that, due to a drafting error, the "N" on the original production model was slightly asymmetrical. An even closer look revealed that some of the "N" decals had been applied upside-down. These errors were reproduced to ensure the Enterprise model appeared as it did on TV. 

The top of the saucer was the only area that still had the original gray paint. New paint precisely matching this color was then applied to the rest of the model. 

The starship's deflector dish had broken off and vanished sometime before 1973. The original spike had been made from wood, but the spike for the restored model was made from aluminum. 

During filming, the model balanced on a single-point stand attached to a geared head made to hold heavy cameras—insufficient support for such a large model. Today, the model rests upon two stanchions built by Museum staff. 

Learn more about this artifact on the Star Trek starship Enterprise Studio Model Conservation page

This article is from the Spring 2024 issue of Air & Space Quarterly, the National Air and Space Museum's signature magazine that explores topics in aviation and space, from the earliest moments of flight to today. Explore the full issue.

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