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.
Thousands of people came to see the Big E this weekend
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?
The original model and the guys who built it in December, 1964 (left to right): Richard C. Datin, Jr., Mel Keys, and Vernon Sion (not pictured, Volmer Jensen)
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.
I know my opinion my not affect it, but I think it should nr restored/preserved to look and be as original as possible. As it looked when it was built in 1964. The rest of the magic is in our imagination.
I always thought that a custom drydock should have been built as a way to keep the struts from sagging and preserve the frame, so that you could see the ship in all its original glory without it going further to pot.
Treat her like a lady, and she’ll always bring you home.
I hate to nitpick… well, not really, I am a Star Trek fan after all… From above:
“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.”
The Apollo 11 Command Module never touched the moon’s surface, it only got as close as lunar orbit. They used a second spacecraft to descend to the surface and then meet back up with the command module several days later, once again in lunar orbit. Nitpick over.
Glad to see the original Enterprise model. I hope this next renovation brings it a little closer to the way it looked when it was originally used for the series. That last one was no bueno.
I really wish they’d keep the model on permanent display at the Udvar-Hazy museum instead of moving it back downtown. Have it on display next to the space shuttle Discovery along with the story of how the “Star Trek” ship became the namesake of the shuttle prototype. It would root the model in real history. Of course, it would be an even neater link if the Enterprise were still the shuttle on display there, but it works either way.
One good thing about it having been displayed in the Air and Space Muesum’s gift shop was how close one could get to it. I hope it’s displayed similarly when it moves to the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.
SWEET! thanks Jared! =D
Is it normal that the video made tears happen?
Doesn’t seem like 50 years.
That last paint job was an abomination.
And don’t touch the top of the saucer, as that part of the model has remained untouched since the miniature left the studio, and should remain so for historical purposes.
Thanks for an interesting article!
And thanks to #3, @AJ — it had to be said. :-)
At least it was saved, nice to know they resepct it as much as the other historical (real-life) items.
Trekcore has posted to Facebook that they have a big video piece coming with interviews with the Smithsonian team, and have some really neat high-rez photos up already.
Some earlier updates predicted she’ll be back on display in July 2016 — which would be great if they meet that schedule and if someone else does as well.
She is our first and truest love. She deserves the best.
I LOVE THAT SHIP!
Agreed. That paint app was horrendous.
Pretty funny zingers from the Shat in response to the Smithsonian’s tweet:
“In every revolution there is one man with a vision.”
“We offered the world order!”
“Excellent Captain, Excellent.”
What I’m curious to know is, who purchased the shooting models for the other Enterprises… the 1701 model that was created for the DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” as well as the models for 1701-D and 1701-E…
““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.”
No ‘reportedly’ about it: the sag was clearly visible when I finally got to see the model in person in 2009, reminding me of my sad, inept childhood attempts to build the AMT model kit with those damnable nacelles in true. It’s great that the old girl will be getting the kind of TLC she needs, and the sad truth is that I can think of far worse uses for my tax dollars.
Even with a clumsy paint job and no lights, she’s a beauty!
If I know my Trek history, the model in that shot from ’64 is NOT the same model at the Smithsonian in the top pic. There were two & the one used throughout the show had the left side exposed for the wiring, etc, so the pilot model (from ’64) was used for the shots showing the left side of the ship in ‘Mirror, Mirror’.
I’m almost 100% certain that they reversed the film for the Mirror Enterprise.
There was only one big model, plus the three footer seen in REQUIEM and the itty bitty thing that flies by in the credits. Pretty sure the side getting torn open happened a little ways after it was built. Check out Richard Datin’s account of how he was building it in the 30th anniversary Trek issue of CINEFANTASTIQUE, which actually has some good history and facts in it.
The Smithsonian is still debating whether to leave the hole in the port side or rework it to be more of a starship icon than a tv working prop. This is the old girl herself. (Although some smaller models did service throughout the TOS run as well.) And I also recall that the times we saw her port side the crew had reversed the film.
17. @MH My own model nacelles sagged and eventually fell off. Sigh.
And a general note — this is an interesting, fun piece. Thanks, Jared.
Mike is being too politically correct- that paint job was NOT accurate. And certain details were blatantly altered by Mairecki, abd everyone knows it. PLEASE do it right this time! There are plenty of resources around now- available to virtually anyone.
Can’t wait to see the finished restoration!
This proves that history has never forgotten the name… “Enterprise.”
In addition, the newest, largest, and most crazy-advanced supercarrier in the U.S. Navy will be the newest USS Enterprise, CVN-80, when it is built and launched, as is planned to occur in the year 2025. See, e.g.,
The most recent USS Enterprise, CVN-65, a storied warship itself with a long and proud roster of battles, was recently retired; right up until retirement, it was the longest, as well as one of the most massive, warships ever built in the history of mankind. It was propelled by eight nuclear reactors producing 210 megawatts of power to drive this incredible ship. Its range was limited only by the supply of comestibles aboard, as well as its stores of aviation fuel. It could cruise for decades on without replacement or replenishment of its nuclear fuel. Along with the cruiser, the USS Long Beach, this Enterprise was one of the first nuclear-powered warships in the world.
“The engines are reportedly sagging,”
So, the original AMT model was just being accurate after all. :)
# 26. Alt-Spock – January 26, 2015
“The engines are reportedly sagging,…” — Mike Okuda
Great another disquieting image rooted in Kurtzman and Orci’s 2009 river of spilled Trek ink: her ample nacelles sagging.
Isn’t it funny how a prop made of fiberglass, plastic, etc., can stir such strong emotions in us? She is indeed greater than the sum of her parts.
Any 50 year old girl’s nacelles are bound to sag a little.
Personally I think that the Enterprise should be restored to her original paint job and markings as much as is possible. But all the wiring should be internalised so that she looks splendid from all sides and angles.
Also, anything which can be done internally to enable her to withstand the next 50 years of gravity would be a good idea.
In terms of internal lighting, it would be a good idea to make everything as modern as possible. For at least two reasons that I can immediately think of.
1) Modern lighting produces virtually no heat.
2) The life span of modern led lighting is far superior to what was originally used in the Enterprise
“NCC-1701. No bloody A, B, C, or D.”
“Program complete. Enter when ready.”
29. Calastir – January 27, 2015
# 30. Mark Lynch – January 27, 2015
” Also, anything which can be done internally to enable her to withstand the next 50 years of gravity would be a good idea” — Mark Lynch
That’s easy: hang her upside after closing and flip her at opening. Nothing speedy just slow an steady as she goes.
This may seem like a crazy idea, bot how about strengthening the supports of the nacelles with some aluminum rods? They could dismantle it, place in the rods, and then done! Are they not allowed to take it apart?
BTW: I’m glad I got to see her twice, but both times in the gift shop behind glass. I would love to see her without the glass.
“Personally I think that the Enterprise should be restored to her original paint job and markings as much as is possible. But all the wiring should be internalised so that she looks splendid from all sides and angles.”
As the article indicates, how you approach the issue of this ‘restoration’ largely depends on what you think its ultimate goal should be. Is the model’s value primarily historical as a prop left over from a cultural landmark, or is its appeal largely aesthetic, as the original embodiment of a classic piece of design? The answers to that question aren’t mutually exclusive, and Mike Minor seems to indicate that the artisans will most likely steer a middle course, but for me the model’s historical value is primary, and any attempt to modernize its electronics or lighting (other than structural improvements to keep it in one piece) would be misguided. Anyone wanting a ‘perfect’ Enterprise that can be filmed from both sides can invest in a Polar Lights kit or Master Replica’s miniature, but museum visitors should get the chance to see what the model used in those episodes actually looked like.
Agree with everyone saying get it as close to the original shooting model as possible. It’s a piece of history at this point.
I’ve seen her up close at the Smithsonian. Whoever butchered the paint job on the old girl should have been soundly kicked in a spot that hurts a lot when you kick it.
They made her look like that Christ fresco that got turned into a monkey.
I do think a mix between the original and weathered version. I don’t like all the lines on the saucer, secondary hull and nacelles, its too much and its too perfect. I NEVER remember those on the original. I also don’t like the bluish hue on the neck and the inner half of the saucer. I remember those blue hues on the Enterprise models by Art Asylum, never like it. And the HD Enterprise version by Art Asylum have the lines on the saucer, secondary hull, and nacelles, meh..
I know that the version with the points on the bussard collectors was not the popular one, but would be nice if they restored it to the red bussards with the points. That is the true original.
In any case the bottom line is I am glad it is getting the restoration it needs and deserves. But the most joyful part is that it is getting a proper place to be displayed. I went to the smithsonian once and at that point in was still in the main hall, hanging proudly among other historical flying vessels. When I heard it went to the gift shop I though, what a low blow. I am glad it will be hung proudly where it belongs.
It’s interesting how the “original” model evolved. I love the pic of the original craftsmen with their finished proiduct. You can see the pride on their faces in a job well done. But that model is quite different from what we saw in TOS. The bridge section seems too tall and out of proportion, not to mention the nacelles with the, uh, um, nipples? I’ll have to rewatch The Cage to see if that was the model used. Nonetheless, THE most beautiful starship ever designed for any movie or tv show, bar none, IMHO.
I think this is cool as hell.
She’s in good hands and I can’t wait to see the finished product.
I wish them good luck. Something this old often can offer some surprises.
It seems weird to me that except for the PHOENIX, they’ve never really gotten the spinning nacelle caps to look anywhere near as cool as they did on TOS originally.
I love the refit’s sheen and many of its curves like you wouldn’t believe, but the nacelles and the linebacker-like ‘neck’ are still disappointments.
I’d vote for absolutely restoring how it looked as a TV prop. That’s what it is. Adding fictional detail to the model because it doesn’t look “real” enough in person is sort of like wanting Shatner to do live appearances in character as Kirk. The fact that the model was made one-sided is interesting and educational. That the effects team applied reversed markings to film it going the other way is neat and inspires creativity.
Somewhere, someone has the ill-gotten original three-foot model last seen on Gene Roddenberry’s desk in the 1970s. I feel like it will surface publicly someday, after whoever has it dies perhaps.
I saw this model in June of 1989, while on an end of school year trip to DC. THIS was a major highlight of that trip.
I took many shots of it, too. I believe I still have them around here somewhere.
If you’re replacing parts with modern tech or painting it differently than it had been painted originally, well, that ain’t a restoration, is it?
“There she is! There she is! Ah, not so wounded as we were led to believe. So much the better.”
I saw this exact artifact back in the 1980’s while living in D.C., so it means a lot to me.
Back in 1986, For Star Trek IV The Voyage Home, Good Morning America interviewed the cast and when Joan London talked about to Jimmy Doohan, he proudly explained that it the Enterprise model hanging in the Smithsonian is the only piece of FICTION in the entire place. When she asked why that was, he was so sweet and said, “Honey, I think it has to do with a special kind of love.” He was so proud of the Enterprise being in the Smithsonian. I am too.
There is also one of the filming models of the refit Enterprise for Star Trek I-III hanging at the Planet Hollywood in times square.
I don’t think that is a filming model, I think that is what was originally the Phase 2 Enterprise, which was discarded in an incomplete form when it went to feature film. Brick Price finished the model off years later, and I think it may have different nacelles, or did originally before he tweaked it.
@44. Yeah, I’m a minority in the camp that it should be seen as a TV prop, not finished out to fulfill a wish fantasy. Then again, while it’s wholly appropriate to be on display at the Smithsonian, I do have mixed feelings about a fictional starship taking up floor space among actual artifacts of flight.