A particularly well done and insightful article by John Wenz published yesterday on popularmechanics.com regarding the restoration of the TOS U.S.S. Enterprise filming miniature at the Smithsonian ...
The Enterprise will become part of the Smithsonian's "Boeing Milestones of Flight" exhibit, and will be placed in a climate controlled case that will preserve it. The restoration aims to bring the model as close as possible to how it appeared in the series, including designer Matt Jefferies' visible pencil lines. Some things will be replaced, like old electronics that could pose a fire hazard. But otherwise, this is about touching up and refinishing one of the most iconic sci-fi ships of all time.
"The lesson I learn about it over and over as the curator is how beloved [the Enterprise] is," says Margaret Weitekamp, a curator at the museum and lead on the restoration project.
"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," says Weitekamp. "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.'"
Popular Mechanics was able to go behind the ropes at the open house and get an up close and personal look at the Enterprise, with conservator Ariel O'Connor to guide us through the work that's already been done, as well as the work that's ahead.
There were two models of the ship built around 1964 as Gene Roddenberry began work on the first abortive pilot, "The Cage." There was a three-foot mock-up to finalize the design, then there was this 11-foot version, the one that appears in every episode of Star Trek from 1966 to 1969.
The three-foot version is lost to the sands of time, missing for decades. "It was on Gene Roddenberry's desk for a while, and the story was that he lent it to someone and he didn't know who or where it went," she says.
There are others, of course. The movie props, and the models from The Next Generation and the show named after the ship, Enterprise. Those are all in the hands of private collectors. One advisory panel member Adam Schneider, for instance, has the Enterprise-E seen in First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis. And Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has the NCC-1701-D used in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
This model is the only original that's on public display.
The college had booked Arthur C. Clarke to come speak, but his fees were high, and thus the school asked faculty member Greg Thompson to try to make more of an event out of it. Thompson was a former Paramount employee who was able to secure the Enterprise model in what became its last public display prior to the 1974 donation to National Air and Space Museum. There were other exhibits, too. NASA rolled out moon rocks, space capsules, and other artifacts for the 50,000 plus visitors to see.
But the ship's appearance meant that of those 50,000 people or more, someone must have taken a photo. Nicholas Partridge, public affairs specialist at the museum, sent out a blog post hoping to capture the attention of fans. Sure enough, photos from Golden West College turned up.
In the original pilot, there was a sleek grey design, giving a nearly unibody appearance to the ship. It wasn't until later that the model was given a "lived in" look. The later look came from a back-and-forth between Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and designer Matt Jefferies . Jefferies had designed the ship to naval principles, but they hadn't arrived quite yet on the final look.
"Roddenberry wanted a ship that was believable. He wanted to see panels, he wanted to see weathering," O'Connor says. "I call this space algae," she says, pointing to areas of brown and green paint on the saucer section of the ship.
"(Roddenberry) wanted to see it on the ship, and Matt Jefferies as the designer said 'We don't know what a starship looks like, let's play with the lights reflecting off a smooth hull.'"
After "The Cage," Roddenberry won out. But there was still a question as to whether any of that original grey survived. Ultimately, the restoration team found it, hiding toward the back of the saucer section.
"It's built out of wood and plastic and metal, and it was never designed to last this long," O'Connor says. "Every ten years or so they'd start to see cracking. What we're doing during this project is getting a climate-controlled case that's temperature- and humidity-stabilized so you won't see cracking in it any longer."