While Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and rest of their valiant crew members are all noteworthy characters, there is an eighth character in the series of equal if not greater importance. One who never got its name in the credits but has papered in every movie and TV show. That unofficial eight character is the USS Enterprise. Along with the ships seen in the Star Wars franchise, few fictional space ships have quite captured the imagination like the old girl.
The Enterprise deserves such a spot. After all, it’s the one who whooshes over the screen of the opening credits, leaving the names of the crew in her wake. Further it isn’t the names of Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock who are mentioned in the opening narration for the series. Like the invocation of Homer to the Muses to tell of the battle of Troy in the Iliad and the exploits of Odysseus in the Odyssey, or of Milton to tell of the fall of Lucifer in Paradise Lost, Captain Kirk offers a similar invocation: to tell of the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.
“Space, the final frontier, these are the voyages of the Star Ship Enterprise. It’s five year mission, to seek out new life and new civilizations .To explore brave new worlds, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
In science fiction one thing that our heroes would be lost without is a cool, iconic space ship. All the great heroes of the past had them. Jason had the Argo. Balder in Norse mythology had Hringhorni. Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo had his Nautilus. Captain Ahab set sail aboard the Pequad in Herman Mellville’s Moby Dick, while Jim Hawkins went aboard the Hispanola in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. So to with the modern day heroes and travelers who sail the stars in science fiction.
As Captain Kirk tells McCoy in the episode the episode “The Ultimate Computer”,
“20th century Earth. ‘All I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by.’ You could feel the wind at your back in those days, the sound of the sea beneath you. And even if you take away the wind and the water, it’s still the same… The ship is yours, you can feel her. And the stars are still there, Bones.”
These hunks take hold of the imagination like no other and take on a life of their own, and reveal something about the characters. The Millennium Flacon in the original Star Wars film is beaten up and run down but you can tell that Han Solo has put a lot of love into keep the ship flying. In contrast Queen Amidala’s royal Naboo starcruiser seen in The Phantom Menace is sleek, regal, and top of the line, everything befitting a royal dignitary. After all, it wouldn’t make sense in reality for royalty to drive around in a beat up old pick-up truck that has a wire coat hanger for a radio antenna, just like it would make no sense for a man barely scraping out an existence to go cruising in a Rolls Royce. Han and Amidala have ships befitting their social status and occupation.
The same is true for the USS Enterprise. When first introduced on the original series, the Enterprise was a rare, one of a kind vision when it came to space ships on TV. This was not some flying saucer, or a rocket ship, or a zippo lighter suspended on a string. It also didn’t have some far out and kooky look as was seen in the 50’s sci-fi films or in the old comic books. This ship was a look at just what might lie in store for the human race as we took to the stars.
As Roddenberry noted in his original Star Trek pitch in regard to the ship, then known as the S.S. Yorktown before being given the name Enterprise,
“As with GUNSMOKE’s Dodge City, KILDARE’s Blair General Hospital, we may never get around to exploring every cabin, department and cranny of our cruiser. The point being- – it is a whole community in which we can anytime take our camera down a passageway and find a guest star or secondary character ( scientist specialist, ordinary airman, passenger or stowaway) who can propel us into a story…the interior construction is utilitarian rather than exotic with a few appropriate indications of advanced controls and instruments. There are galleys, recreation rooms, a library, a hospital unit, and scientific laboratories, in addition to expected items such as the bridge, communication room and crew quarters always with a slight naval flavor.”
No one however could have imagined just how much viewers and fans would come to love this ship. As Margaret Weitekamp, curator of the Smithsonian’s “Boeing Milestones of Flight Exhibit” and leader of a restoration project for the original three foot model of the Enterprise that was used for shooting the episodes of the show, noted in an interview with Popular Mechanics,
“The lesson I learn about it over and over as the curator is how beloved [the Enterprise] is…People come to see it, and in many ways, I think the best explanation of the piece is that this is a 1960s television star…People come in, and this is the TV celebrity that created the images that they remember from their childhood. People tend to react the way they react when they encounter a live celebrity. Either they have this wonderful transcendent moment where they met the real person, or alternately they meet the real person and think ‘My goodness they got old. They don’t look at all like I remember from TV.'”
Yet at the same time, this “lived in” quality of the Enterprise was part of the ship’s charm. Like her crew she seemed to grow older and despite any wrinkles or blemishes she developed, it only gave her more character. This gave the ship a “personality” all its own that was just as developed as Batman’s Gotham City or Superman’s Metropolis.
When the crew would get new uniforms for movies, she would get a refit, including new reflector dish, new nacelles, upgrades on the computers and even a brand new engine to help her travel faster. Then, when the original Enterprise made her theatrical debut in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, she looked different due to upgrades and refits. Much like a naval vessel, the ship went through this to keep her up to date with the latest ship’s in the fleet, and maintain her continual service. Despite new exteriors, and even a different bridge, she still had the same heart.
The starship Enterprise was so iconic that upon completion of the first experimental space shuttle ended up being named after the science fiction icon. The shuttle mission, OV-101, which was commanded by Fred Haise who had served as the Lunar Excursion Module Pilot for the Apollo 13 mission, did not get to go into space like other shuttles. It had no heat shields and no engines and was launched form the back of a modified 747 and performed only atmospheric test flights for the next generation of space vehicles.
The shuttle’s launch even coincided with the 10th anniversary of the original series, making its name all the more fitting. However, It almost didn’t happen that way, had it not been for the legions of fans of Star Trek, as Chris Gehbert noted in “Space Shuttle Enterprise – The Orbiter that started it all” from NASAspaceflight.com, a website devoted to all the latest news in space flight,
“ Honoring the bicentennial of the United States’ Constitution, NASA chose the name Constitution for OV-101 – much to the dissatisfaction of a large science fiction community… a community that was anything but silent…Already successful eight years earlier in bombarding NBC with letters to renew and save their favorite show (a show that gained immense popularity after its eventual cancellation in 1969), fans of the television series Star Trek wrote letters in droves to NASA and the U.S. Federal government urging them to rename Space Shuttle Constitution to Space Shuttle Enterprise as no space fleet of exploration would be complete without an Enterprise…Eventually, NASA and the Federal government agreed, and OV-101 was officially, and permanently, named Enterprise.”
Jim Cannon, the Domestic Policy Advisor for then President Gerald Ford summarized in a memo pertaining to the naming of the first shuttle,
“It seems to me Enterprise is an excellent name for the space shuttle…It would be personally gratifying to several million followers of the television show Star Trek, one of the most dedicated constituencies in the country…Moreover, the name Enterprise is a hallowed Navy tradition. An Enterprise was in action against the Barbary pirates in 1803. During World War II, an Enterprise served with the Wasp and the Hornet in the carrier fleet in the Pacific. And the Navy’s current Enterprise is the first nuclear carrier.”
Gene Roddenberry and several of the key cast members would even be on hand for the shuttle’s launch . The shuttle would retroactively find its way into Star Trek’s mythology as from the 1978 movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture and all subsequent films and spin-offs, the space shuttle Enterprise was often featured as either a model or a sketch in the conference room alongside the other vessels that bore that name. The shuttle Enterprise would even be seen in the “history of flight” montage that served as the opening credits for the short lived Star Trek: Enterprise series.
While the Star Trek: Enterprise series was not well received by the fans, most would agree that the montage itself was stirring, showing how the history of flight would one day lead to ships, like the USS Enterprise that could travel faster than the speed of light. But this ship, and the Federation that its serves, would probably not exist if not for a tried and true science fiction trope: World War III. This left many major cities destroyed and 600 million humans dead.
Among the survivors, as seen in the film Star Trek: First Contact, a human scientist by the name of Zephram Cochran who used a Titan II nuclear missile to achieve light speed. Initially Vulcans on an exploratory mission of the Solar System were going to dismiss Earth as a backwater world that had yet to evolve, until the launch. This lead humanity to being embraced by the stars. From their Dr. Cochran would help develop the warp drive.
The fact that these ships were engineered from nuclear weapons mirrored what happened during the space race of the 1950’s and 60s. The early ships for the Mercury and Gemini projects were re-purposed Redstone, Atlas and Titan intercontinental missiles left over from World War II. A number of prominent scientists from the Manhattan Project who were disgusted at their invention actually proposed a space mission called “Project Orion” in which the craft in question would use nuclear weapons as a system or propulsion.
However, long before a single rocket would lift off from Cape Canaveral, pioneering science fiction author Jules Verne would predict a similar event in his classic novel from the Earth to the Moon. Set during the late 1800s, the story saw a fledgling organization known as “The Gun Club” struggling with obscurity following the end of the American Civil War. As the manufacturers of munitions, with no war they were generating no revenue and needed something to gain public interest. They proposed traveling to the moon by firing a very large bullet from a canon. As fate would have it, Verne predicted the exact location, the number of crew members, the splash down in the ocean, and the equation for how much thrust a craft would need to depart the Earth for the Moon.
It all boils down to the hope that humans have that from the ashes of war and devastation, good things could come about. More importantly that somehow our weapons of war could be instruments of peace. Even the Judeo Christian scriptures speak of such a thing in a verse that is even commemorated outside of the headquarters for the United Nations,
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
The Star Trek universe is rooted in such a utopian vision. This is best illustrated in the Star Trek original series episode “City on the Edge of Forever” in one of the speeches from Edith Keeler.
“One day soon, man is going to be able to harness incredible energies – maybe even the atom; energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and to cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way to give each man hope and a common future… and those are the days worth living for.”
Exploration and the pursuit of knowledge is the first objective of the mission of the Enterprise. In the episode “Return to Tomorrow” the crew is asked by an ancient being called Sargon, who claims that his descendants where the Klingons, Humans and Romulans. He and his lover request that the crew build for them android bodies and exchange they would share all their knowledge with them. It would be a tremendous leap for humanity and thus most of the crew is willing to accept the offer, save Dr. McCoy. Captain Kirk admonishes.
“They used to say if man could fly, he’d have wings… but he did fly. He discovered he had to. Do you wish that the first Apollo mission hadn’t reached the moon, or that we hadn’t gone on to Mars or the nearest star? That’s like saying you wish that you still operated with scalpels and sewed your patients up with catgut like your great-great-great-great-grandfather used to. I’m in command. I could order this. But I’m not… because… Dr. McCoy is right in pointing out the enormous danger potential in any contact with life and intelligence as fantastically advanced as this. But I must point out that the possibilities, the potential for knowledge and advancement is equally great. Risk… risk is our business! That’s what this starship is all about… that’s why we’re aboard her!”
Whenever there is an important historic peace agreement, the Enterprise, as the premier flagship of the Federation is usually always present. Whether it’s shuttling key ambassadors to a conference for the admission of the planet Coridan into the Federation in “Journey to Babel”, or to Altair Six in “Amok Time”, or Kithomer Accords in Star Trek VI, she is there to show the Federation’s strength, prestige, and majesty. Even if there are other ships present it doesn’t matter, to Starfleet. As Admiral Komack says in “Amok Time” when Kirk requests that the deviate in order to get Spock to Vulcan, the admiral refuses, saying,
“Altair Six is no ordinary matter. That area is just putting itself together after a long interplanetary conflict. This inauguration will stabilize the entire Altair system. Our appearance there is a demonstration of friendship and strength which will cause ripples clear to the Klingon Empire.”
Captain Kirk even acknowledges that the Enterprise’s mission is one of peace in the episode “Journey to Babel”. He learns from Amanda Grayson that among the reasons why Sarek did not approve of Spock joining Starfleet was because Vulcans favored peace above all else. Kirk informs Amanda,
“Starfleet force is used only as a last resort. We’re an instrument of civilization. And it’s a better opportunity for a scientist to study the universe than he can get at the Vulcan Science Academy.”
Anytime there is a strange or mysterious occurrence anywhere in the galaxy, the Enterprise is usually the first ship called into duty. Some fans and critics joke about this and wonder where are the other ships in this Starfleet, but the consensus is usually that the Enterprise is the top of the line ship with the best crew and is therefore the best qualified to investigate the matter and resolve nay problems that may arise. Further, with the likes of Kirk or Scotty in charge they can get the ship up and running in less time than it would take to get the other ships mobilized. As Captain Kirk informs Scotty Star Trek: The Motion Picture when they are called upon to investigate the coming V’ger space craft, and the new upgrades haven’t been fully tested or installed yet,
“Mister Scott, there’s an alien object with unbelievable destructive power less than three days away from this planet…The only starship in interception range is the Enterprise. Ready, or not, she launches in twelve hours.”
This is not to say that the Star Trek universe is all happy and peaceful and everyone holds hands on the Enterprise and sings “Kumbyyah”. In fact the show’s writers learned early on that one of the problems with a perfect utopian society is that such a hypothetical world is free of conflict, and regrettably all stories need conflict to fuel the narrative . If everyone is happy, equal, and getting along there’s no drama between the characters, and therefore no engaging plot-lines. Star Trek: The Motion Picture may be a visual feast, on par with 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, but compared to the high-stakes drama in Wrath of Kahn, the first cinematic outing from the Enterprise comes off as dull.
Exploration may be the first job of the Enterprise and her crew, but they are also the vanguard between civilization and any possible enemies, including Kahn, The Klingons and the Romulans. All three of these threats were serious, but while Kahn was a renegade form the past, and the Klingons a stalwart enemy of the Federation, the Romulans were bound by a tenuous peace treaty signed centuries ago. Thus, in “Balance of Terror” when they receive a distress call from an outpost near the Romulan Neutral Zone that exists between the Federation and the twin worlds of Romulus and Remus of an attack, Kirk is given orders that he relays to the crew.
“What you do not know and must be told is that my command orders on this subject are precise and inviolable. No act, no provocation ..Will be considered sufficient reason to violate the zone. We may defend ourselves…But if necessary to avoid interspace war…Both these outposts and this vessel will be considered expendable. Captain out. ”
Thus, the Enterprise is locked in a pitched battle against the Romulan ship. In the end, while the retain heavy damage, they prevail over the Romulans and a war is avoided. However, despite all this, the crew of the Enterprise has been known to not only defy direct orders from Starfleet, but to disobey the Prime Directive. It was never to be a bunch of rebels or stick it to the man, but out of a sense to do the right thing at all costs, even if it means destroying the Enterprise herself in the process.
In Star Trek IV, this all comes to ahead in the wake of their decision to not only disobey Starfleet orders to stay away from genesis, but the other actions they undertook to save Spock, and later the Earth from destruction.
As the president of the Federation says at the trail for the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek IV,
“The charges and specifications are: Conspiracy. Assault on Federation Officers. Theft of Federation Property, namely the Starship Enterprise. Sabotage of the U.S.S. Excelsior, Willful destruction of Federation Property, specifically the aforementioned U.S.S. Enterprise. And finally, disobeying direct orders of the Starfleet Commander.”
At the same time, no one in the hierarchy could deny that when all was on the line, the Enterprise and her crew got results and would always save the day. The Federation President would even acknowledge this in saying that they saved the Earth from its own shortsightedness as they would have been destroyed by the alien probe that came to talk to the humpback whales who had gone extinct had they not brought them back, and therefore because of their actions they were terminally in their debt. The crew is given a new ship, The Enterprise A to continue their mission at least until they reached retirement.
From there, Starfleet would go on to have other Enterprises, including the Enterprise B, the famous D and E in Star Trek: The Next Generation in its spin-off series, and the Enterprise C that was lost in battle. The ship became a legacy of its own, and every crew that would follow would look up to and admire the original crew and aspire to follow in their footsteps, even wishing they could have been part of their adventures. In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “Trouble with Tribbles” crossover “Trials and Tribble-ations” Captain Benjamin Sisko even took a few moments at the end of their mission to get Kirk’s autograph by claiming it was a signature for a file for Starfleet.
Captain Janeway would surmise their appeal best to her ensign Harry Kim upon learning that Sulu actually kept much of his part in the events surrounding Kirk and McCoy’s imprisonment and defied orders of the record,
“It would seem that Captain Sulu decided not to enter that journey into his official log. The day’s entry makes some cryptic remark about the ship being damaged in a gaseous anomaly and needing repairs, but… nothing else…It was a very different time…. Captain Sulu, Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy. They all belonged to a different breed of Starfleet officers… Humanity on the verge of war with the Klingons, Romulans hiding behind every nebula. Even the technology we take for granted was still in its early stages: no plasma weapons, no multi-phasic shields… Their ships were half as fast… Space must have seemed a whole lot bigger back then. It’s not surprising they had to bend the rules a little. They were a little slower to invoke the Prime Directive, and a little quicker to pull their phasers. Of course, the whole bunch of them would be booted out of Starfleet today. But I have to admit: I would have loved to ride shotgun at least once with a group of officers like that.”
Wherever these new adventure will take the ship and her crew is anyone’s guess. One things is for sure, the exploits Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, and their legendary ship will live on. And with a new TV show on the horizon and more movies in the works, fans everywhere can be assured that each new mission the crew will continue to do as Picard told the crew of Enterprise D as they tried to protect the Enterprise C on its way back through a rift in time and space, in “Yesterday’s Enterprise”,
“Attention all hands. As you know, we could outrun the Klingon vessels. But we must protect the Enterprise-C until she enters the temporal rift. And we must succeed! Let’s make sure that history never forgets… the name… Enterprise.”
Whether it is though new movies set in the alternate time line or the number of spin –off series, Star Trek will live on, and no one anywhere will ever forget the name Enterprise. As Captain Kirk himself acknowledged at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,
“Captain’s Log, stardate 9529.1. This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun, and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man… where no *one* has gone before.”
TV SHOW: Carson, David (Dir.) “Yesterday’s Enterprise” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Denise Crosby, Christopher McDonald, Tricia O’Neil, and Whoopi Goldberg. Ira Steven Behr, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler, Ronald D. Moore, Trent Christopher Ganino, and Eric A. Stillwell (Writers.) Original Airdate: February 17, 1990.Paramount Televsion.
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Isaiah The NIV study Bible Kenneth L.Barker – Donald W.Burdick – Zondervan Pub. House – 1995
TV SHOW: Lucas, John Meredyth (Dir.) “The Ultimate Computer” Star Trek. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, William Marshall, Sean Morgan, and Barry Russo. DC Fontana (writer.) Original Airdate: March 8, 1968. Paramount Televsion/CBS Studios.
TV SHOW: McEveety, Vincent (Dir.) “Balance of Terror” Star Trek William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Grace Lee Whitney, Mark Lenard, Lawrence Montaigne, Stephen Mines, and Paul Comi. Paul Schnieder ( writer.) Original Airdate: December 15, 1966. Paramount Televsion/CBS Studios.
FILM: Meyer, Nicolas (Dir).Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley , James Doohan, Walter Koenig , Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Kim Catrell, Christopher Plummer, David Warner, Rosanna DeSoto, and Iman. Nicholas Meyer, and Denny Martin Flinn ( Writers) 1991. Paramount Pictures.
FILM: Nimoy, Leonard (Dir.)Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley , James Doohan, Walter Koenig , Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Catherine Hicks, Robin Curtis, Jane Wyatt, and Mark Lenard. Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes, Nicolas Meyer, Harve Bennett and Leonard Nimoy (Writers). 1986. Paramount Pictures.
TV SHOW: Pevney, Joseph “City on the Edge of Forever” William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle, Nichols, John Harmon, Hal Baylor, David L. Ross, John Winston, Bartell La Rue, and Joan Collins. Harlan Ellison (Writer). Original Airdate: April 6,1967. Desilu Productions/Paramount Television.
TV SHOW: Pevney, Joseph “Amok Time” Star Trek. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, DeForest Kelley, Majell Barrett, George Takei, Nichelle Nicols, Wlater Koenig, Byron Morrow, Arlene Martell, Lawrence Montaigne, and Celia Lovsky. Theodore Sturgeon (Writer) Original Airdate: September 15, 1967. Desilu Productions/Paramount Television.
TV SHOW: Pevney, Joseph “Journey to Babel” Star Trek. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, William O’Connell, Majel Barrett, Walter Koenig, John Wheeler, James X. Mitchell, Reggie Nalder, Jane Wyatt, and Mark Lenard. DC Fontana ( Writer). Original Airdate: November 17, 1967. Desilu Productions/Paramount Television.
Roddenberry, Gene “Star Trek Is…” pg. 12. March 11, 1964.
TV SHOW: Senensky, Ralph (Dir.) “Return to Tomorrow” Star Trek. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Diana Muldaur, and Majel Barret. John Kingsbridge ( Writer.) Original Airdate: February 9, 1968. Desilu Productions/Paramount Television.
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TV SHOW: West, Jonathan ( Dir.) “Trials and Tribble-Ations”. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, Michael Dorn, Terry Farrell, Cirroc Lofton, Colm Meaney, Armin Shimerman, Alexander Siddig, Nana Visitor, Jack Blessing, Jim Jansen, Charlie Broll, Leslie Ackerman, Charles Rahi Chun, Deirdre Imershein, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Walter Koenig, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, William Schallert, William Campbell, Stanley Adams, Whit Bissell, Michael Pataki, Ed Reimers, and Charlie Brill. Ronald D. Moore, Rene Echevarria, Ira Steven Behr, Hans Beimler, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, and David Gerrold ( writers.) Original Airdate: November 4, 1996.
FILM: Wise, Robert (Dir)Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley , James Doohan, Walter Koenig , Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Persis Khambatta, and Stephen Collins. Alan Dean Foster and Harold Livingston (writers). 1979 Paramount Pictures.
1967 Paramount Pictures/CBS Studios/Desilu Productions, 1989 Paramount Pictures.