The 40-Year-Old Starship

Welcome to 2007. I had a fun and relaxing holiday season. As always, it all went by too quickly.

My wife and I have a tradition of giving each other only fun presents for Christmas. For me, this means receiving lots of Superman, Star Trek, and Star Wars stuff. For her, this means receiving jewelry. Lots of jewelry.

One of the many cool gifts she gave me at Christmas was the Hallmark USS Enterprise NCC-1701 ornament. Perfect for Star Trek‘s 40th anniversary year. Here are a couple shots I took of it (below and near the end of this entry). I rather crudely added in the starscape background using PhotoShop.

Hallmark Enterprise, 2006
Speaking of the good ship Enterprise, I recently received some reader mail questioning some details on the NCC-1701 page. Back on the old version of The Film Frontier, I used to have a “Communications” page to answer these sorts of questions. Since that page didn’t make it over to this version of the site, I’ll use this blog every now and then for this purpose.

Conor writes:

I am interested to know how the Enterprise had served for forty years of service, before it was finally decommissioned.

I own and have seen all at least twice, every episode of TOS plus I have seen each movie at least twice also, and I find nothing to dictate “forty” years of service.

[Some claim] the Constitution Class Vessel was deployed in the mid 23rd century, which could be as early as 2245, or as late as 2255 […] and if we assume that the Constitution Class ‘was’ indeed introduced into service at the year 2246, then you would be right in stating that it served for forty years, if the Enterprise was one of those first few deployed (along with the USS Constitution).

[There are also] claims they were commissioned at 2240, so by the time James T. Kirk was given command, these vessels had seen 25 years of service already. Does this sound logical to you, that in twenty five years, Starfleet had never introduced a more superior starship to the Constitution Class?

[Another source indicates that] these starships were commissioned in the late 2250s towards the early 2260s, which is by far a most likely scenario, because that would still give time for Christopher Pike to serve as captain on the Enterprise, as well as leave this ship to be a still cutting edge technology when Kirk first comes aboard. Not only does this support my theory, but that of the films, when the […] Admiral says to Kirk “There will be no re-fit of Enterprise… She’s fifteen years old Jim, Starfleet feels she’s had her time.” Of course I may have misheard him say “fifteen” when he really said “thirty five” and the quote may not be one hundred percent accurate, but I’m sure you get my drift.

However, on another topic, which I find most odd, is the fact that you also mention the Enterprise has had five captains, Spock being number five. Most could only count three. I can count four, those being in order, Pike, Kirk, Decker, and Spock. Who is this fifth captain you speak of? And did he serve before Pike? Somewhere during Kirks first reign? Or at some other point? […]

In Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country […] I saw Captain Scott reading a diagram schematic of the Constitution class. […] You may wish to consider that the Enterprise before Star Trek: The Motion Picture was renamed the Enterprise class, then after its destruction (in STIII) a newer class was built, taking the name of the old Constitution class. I think this may be the answer, as I doubt the film makers would let something like that be a simple mistake in their film, and this supports both our ideas. […]

Thank you for the great comments and questions, Conor. Since it’s been about nine years since I first worked on the Enterprise-A section, which includes the Namesake page for the original Enterprise, I went back and reviewed the information to refresh my memory.

The primary sources for the Enterprise-A section are Star Trek Chronology: The History Of The Future by Michael and Denise Okuda and The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide To The Future by Michael and Denise Okuda & Debbie Mirek.

Since a standard Earth year for any of Kirk’s adventures was never firmly established on the original Star Trek TV series, all talk of dates involves some form of conjecture.

Since they have been more or less the official Trek historians for well over a decade, I generally stick with the Okudas’ references unless I have some reason to depart from them. For instance, I have augmented the Okudas’ list of mentioned Constitution Class refit vessels with additional vessels from the FASA gaming manuals though Paramount no longer sanctions them as official. My reasoning is that restricting the list to only vessels seen or mentioned on screen makes the fleet artificially small.

Getting back to your first question, though, the Okudas establish 2245 as the launch year of the NCC-1701 Enterprise.

From the Encyclopedia:

We conjecture that Captain Pike commanded two five-year missions of the Enterprise before Kirk’s tenure at the helm, and that Captain Robert April commanded a five-year mission before Pike. This is reasonably consistent with a commissioning date of 2245.

The Okuda references also establish 2285 as the year of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, which saw the end of the original Enterprise after 40 years of service.

As for Robert April being the first captain of the Enterprise, this was established by the episode “The Counter-Clock Incident” of the animated Star Trek series. At the time of the Okuda references, Paramount did not recognize the animated series as part of the official timeline. The official Star Trek site recently indicated that the animated series may become official, though.

At any rate, the Okudas made an exception back then regarding April–as noted in the Encyclopedia:

April is, of course, totally conjectural, but is being included at Gene Roddenberry’s suggestion. Gene had used the character name for the ship’s commander in his first proposal for Star Trek, written in 1964.

Since Star Trek has had many different production teams and writers over the years, there is often not a completely consistent history. In fact, I was amazed that the Okudas were able to construct one at all.

As you noted, there is a line in Star Trek III that would seem to dispute the 40-year-old starship theory.

Admiral Morrow: “Jim, the Enterprise is 20-years-old. We feel her day is over.

The major refit to the Enterprise (upgrading from the TV series version to the version first seen in The Motion Picture) occurred from 2270 to 2271, according to the Okuda references.

Since this essentially created an almost entirely new vessel, I choose to interpret Morrow’s comment as referring to the nearly 20 years since that major refit. In fact, I wrote this snippet of the page as an explanation of sorts for Morrow’s line:

Although Kirk requested another refit after returning her to Earth Spacedock, Starfleet instead decided to decommission the Enterprise—since her redesigned components were nearly twenty years old.

Regarding the Enterprise not being cutting edge technology because she had already existed for twenty years by the time of Kirk’s adventures on the TV series, I respectfully disagree.

I think it’s fair to assume, based on the evidence of “The Cage” vs. “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” that there was also a refit between Pike and Kirk’s command. The crew capacity, for instance, doubled. The bridge module changed. The warp nacelles changed, as did the navigational deflector.

There is also some evidence that there was yet another refit between “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and “The Corbomite Maneuver” as it featured a third configuration of the Enterprise model.

Since model footage was often re-used in the TV series out of necessity, this gets a little dicey, of course, since “The Cage” version may sometimes show up, as does the “Where No Man Has Gone Before” version, in subsequent episodes.

If we accept April as the first captain, as Roddenberry and the Okudas suggest we do, I think it’s also fair to assume that there was an overhaul between April’s command and Pike’s.

Though it may have been twenty years since her original launch, the Enterprise was very likely cutting edge in Kirk’s time as shown on the television series, and hardly the same vessel as April commanded.

To look at a real-world example, the USS Enterprise naval carrier launched in 1960. As recently as 2006 she was still in action as one of the US Navy’s premiere vessels, over 45 years old. Don’t think of the Enterprise as a car, with a relatively short lifespan and a quick depreciation in value, but rather as a constantly upgraded military vessel.

In the end, though, we could debate the flimsy Star Trek timeline until . . . 2245. Instead, let’s both heed Joel Hodgson and Josh Weinstein’s wise advice of repeating to ourselves that “it’s just a show.”

Hallmark Enterprise, 2006
I’m not sure if the scene with Scott and the Constitution Class schematics from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was a mistake or a choice. Technically, the Enterprise Class had never been officially established in the films for the refit vessels– though the Mr. Scott’s Guide to the “Enterprise” book and the FASA gaming manuals called it that. Though Paramount no longer recognizes those references, that doesn’t mean we as fans can’t recognize them or at least parts of them.

I always liked calling it the Enterprise Class, as I think it makes a nice distinction between the refit/movie style of the vessel and the Constitution Class vessel from the TV series.

Let’s face it, as “refits” go this one was pretty major. It appears every single piece of the vessel was replaced. Perhaps, somewhere in the unseen “core” of the Enterprise, she’s still the same ship at heart. Other than that, she appears to be a brand-new vessel.

I usually don’t pick up on quick text information like that in movies until subsequent viewings, but I remember my eyes happening to catch that one when seeing Star Trek VI in the theater for the first time back in 1991. A minor twinge of disappointment came over me at that moment.

Of course, since then, that little diagram has established in the eyes of Paramount that even the refit vessel is Constitution Class.

In the Enterprise-A section, I tried to strike a bit of a compromise by noting that the new design was informally referred to as the Enterprise Class; though it was still technically a Constitution Class.

These are the tiny things that Star Trek fans like me and you worry about, Conor. Poor J.J. Abrams!