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Examining the Starship Enterprise 

Posted on Tue, September 11, 2018
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It’s the ship that would boldly go on to make history—the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model, used in the filming of the iconic television show, which premiered on NBC in September of 1966. It’s a ship that’s inspired big and small screen adaptations, countless fan tributes, and many selfies near its display at our Museum in Washington, DC.

Take a closer look at the makings of the starship Enterprise.

"Star Trek" Starship Enterprise model (A19740668000), Post Conservation

This model of the fictional starship Enterprise was used in the weekly hour-long "Star Trek" TV show (NBC-TV), which aired from September 1966 until June 1969. The model's principal designer, Walter "Matt" Jefferies, worked with concepts provided by Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry. At first, Desilu Productions commissioned a rough 4-inch balsa and cardboard prototype. A 3-foot "pilot" model mostly of solid wood was then built by model-maker Richard C. Datin under subcontract to the Howard Anderson Company. Enlarging the plans for the 3-foot model resulted in the final 11-foot model shown here. The Anderson Company again turned to Datin who contracted it out to Production Model Shop of Burbank, California, with Datin supervising the construction while he did the detail work.

  • Before the advent of CGI, filming miniatures (like this Enterprise model) was standard practice on film and television sets. How did they shoot the Enterprise zooming through a star field in the original series’ opening credits? The model would stand still against a blue backdrop and the camera would go past it, creating the illusion that the Enterprise was moving.

"Star Trek" Starship Enterprise model (A19740668000), Post Conservation

This model of the fictional starship Enterprise was used in the weekly hour-long "Star Trek" TV show (NBC-TV), which aired from September 1966 until June 1969. Despite its short initial run (only three seasons), Star Trek became one of the most popular shows in the history of television. The show's depiction of a racially-integrated, multinational crew of men and women working together successfully, as well as its attention to contemporary social and political issues, pushed the boundaries of network television, earning Star Trek a dedicated fan base that lobbied for the franchise's continuation.

  • If you’ve only seen the 1960s Enterprise studio model on TV, that means you’ve only ever seen it from one side.

    During production of the television show, only one side was completely finished and detailed—that was the side always shown on screen. The port side, or left side of the model, never faced the camera, so it was not as detailed. This is visible in the display at our Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall; you’ll see the left side is where the wires bring power to the ship’s internal lights and motors.

"Star Trek" Starship Enterprise model (A19740668000), Post Conservation

This model of the fictional starship Enterprise was used in the weekly hour-long "Star Trek" TV show (NBC-TV), which aired from September 1966 until June 1969. The Enterprise was meant to travel many times beyond light speed, powered by a controlled matter/anti-matter system, a propulsion concept "stretched" from a then-accepted theory. The fictional ship grossed 190,000 tons, and measured 947 feet long and 417 feet in diameter. The saucer-shaped hull included 11 decks, and had a crew complement of 430.

  • The lighting system on the original Enterprise used mirrors, motors, nails, and Christmas lights to illuminate the model. The original mechanism, including the nacelle dome lights, did not survive.

    The model’s internal lighting has now been replaced with modern LED lights. You can see the Enterprise light up at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm.

Enterprise against a black background.

A close up of the Star Trek starship Enterprise. 

  • The paint on the front top of the saucer dates back to the 1960s. Conservators took microscopic samples from the model’s surface to analyze cross-sections of this paint under both UV and visible light.

    The paint colors used in the conservation treatment of the studio model were matched to the original colors. (There are actually five different shades of grey in the restored Enterprise model!)

See a new side to the National Air and Space Museum with images from our Air and Space Photo initiative. Explore the history of aviation and spaceflight from a new angle, and download high-resolution photographs of our collections.