The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is overseeing the 4th and latest restoration of the original Enterprise model used to film The Original Series. For one day only they let the public in on the process, and TrekMovie’s Jared Whitley has the scoop and photos below.
HERNDON, VA – A small piece of history beamed into town today.
The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum held an open house to showcase some of its restoration facilities, and staff spoke with visitors about how they tend to artifacts in their possession at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, a converted hangar bay in Herndon, Virginia, about 25 miles from Washington, DC. Thousands of visitors were able to go through rooms that are off-limits the rest of the year.
The marquee attraction of this event was the original model used for the starship Enterprise. No bloody A, B, C, or D.
Conservation experts are touching-up the prop, which is over 50 years old at this point. The model had been on display in the 1st floor Smithsonian Museum Store continuously since 2000, so to see it again in the open was as sweet as a glass of tranya. The restoration efforts are preparing the E for her new, more prominent home in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall along side such iconic flying machines as the Spirit of St. Louis, the single-engine plane flown by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 on the first solo trans-Atlantic flight, and the Apollo 11 command module, which landed Neil and Buzz safely on the lunar surface in 1969.
Restoration and Preservation since the 1960s
Since it’s television debut in 1966, the 11-foot model has been “treated” three times – in 1974, 1984, and 1992. The current restoration comes more than 20 years after the last major effort in 1992 overseen by Science Fiction Modelmaking Associates, who also brought you many of our beloved TNG props and models. The 1992 job caused some controversy in the fan community over the paint that was applied. Mike and Denise Okuda, who have been responsible for so much of the look and feel of Star Trek over the years, are consulting on the new restoration project.
“That  restoration was actually quite accurate, but the restorer applied the “weathering” overlay too heavily,” Mike told TrekMovie. “That’s actually a very easy mistake to make. It’s really very hard to judge the “proper” amount of weathering, especially for an object that is normally seen in second, third, fourth and worse generation photo images, which is what was done for the original optical effects. Nevertheless, I agree that the weathering was too heavily applied.”
Mike says that the Museum may decide to take a more conservative approach this time around, saying “I don’t think the museum has yet decided on the exact approach they’re going to take. They’re still studying it, trying to figure out a balance between restoration and conservation. They will want guests to see the starship in all its glory, but at the same time, they want to minimize invasive procedures in the interest of preserving the artifact (including its paint) for future study.”
The Smithsonian treats their objects as proper museum pieces, and as such will preserve some of the original surface during restoration projects. According to Okuda, the top of the saucer (except the bridge superstructure) has the original paint applied to the model in the 1960s. That means the exact paint captured by the cameras that brought you the Original Series. How cool is that?
But, while it is important to preserve the model in its original form, there is also another story to be told: that of what the Enterprise looks like in the minds of its audience, or how it “should” look.
“I know some fans expect the entire model stripped and refinished to match the image that’s in their heads of the “real” starship. I personally advocate a middle ground between showing the starship as we imagined it, and showing the prop as an artifact of a bygone era of television filmmaking. I think both stories are important to tell.”
In need of some TLC
Since the last restore, all the Enterprise has had is some light dusting and is reportedly in need of some TLC. As a result, the model has suffered over the years.
“The engines are reportedly sagging, and (possibly related) there is some cracking in the structure. There is also some significant cracking in the 1992 paint job, as well as crazing in the original 1960s painted areas.”
It will be great to see the model properly taken care of, mended, and shined and moved to a location worthy of its history (rather than living as an adornment of the gift shop). And, with the restored Enterprise’s unveiling scheduled for Trek’s golden anniversary year, it might be a good time for Trekkies to make a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. and get a look at the ship that has inspired so many.
Cover image photo credit.