Happy 50th Birthday to the original Starship Enterprise!

Celebrating the original Star Trek‘s golden anniversary should be an ongoing, evolving thing that plays out all the way through 2016. As a matter of fact and as far as I’m concerned, it’s already underway, full-tilt boogie.

For example, last month we tipped our hats to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first-ever Star Trek scene being filmed. Rather than limiting the festivities to one day of observance – September 8th, 2016 – it’s my hope to geek out about this sort of stuff (you know, like normal) as we party all the way to the big day. There’s no way I’ll get to everything that’s worth mentioning, but I’ll do my best to hit the high points.

Speaking of which…..

On December 29th, 1964 – 50 years ago today – the original filming model of the U.S.S. Enterprise was delivered to the Howard Anderson Company. There, it would be used as the centerpiece for optical effects scenes to be included in the pilot episode of what was hoped to be a new television series, Star Trek.

Model maker Richard C. Datin, Jr., who worked for the company and oversaw the efforts of craftsmen Mel Keys, Vernon Sion, and Volmer Jensen, constructed the 11-foot “miniature” from a 1-foot prototype Datin himself built. The prototype and the larger model were of course based on the design created by Star Trek production artist Walter M. “Matt” Jefferies.

Later, Datin would make a few minor adjustments to the model prior to its use during the filming of the original series’ first pilot, “The Cage.” He subsequently would make alterations to the model for the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and again once the show sold to NBC and filming began on the series’ first season.

CLICK TO ENLARGE (L-R: Richard C. Datin, Jr. Mel Keys, Vernon Sion)

The model had until recently been on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, beginning in the 1970s when it was hung in one of the museum’s first-level galleries, where it remained until the late 1980s.

The first time I saw it up close and personal was in early 1986, at which time I snapped these two pictures with one of those old-style 110 cameras. The pic on the left was me standing in front the gallery’s entrance, and the right was taken from an adjacent stairway landing.

 enterprise-1986-1 enterprise-1986-2
(Click to enlarge.)

After an extensive restoration, the model was returned to a 2nd floor gallery as part of a larger exhibit commemorating Star Trek, which ran between February 1992 and January 1993.

After a major restoration, the model was displayed as part of a temporary Star Trek exhibit during the early-mid 1990s. Following that, it was displayed until just recently in the lower level of the museum’s main gift store.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the model would undergo an evaluation as well as possible conservation or restoration, in preparation for its being moved sometime in 2016 to the Milestones of Flight Hall on the museum’s main floor, just in time to celebrate Star Trek‘s official 50th anniversary.

Air & Space: Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise to Boldly Go Back to the Workshop

The museum itself also maintains a blog, where they’ve chronicled the model’s move out of the museum and on its way for restoration work:

Blog.NASM.SI.edu: Moving the Star Trek Starship Enterprise Studio Model

There also are some older features detailing the museum’s first restoration effort:

Blog.NASM.SI.edu: Restoration of the Starship Enterprise
Blog.NASM.SI.edu: X-Ray Analysis of the Starship Enterprise

Finally, there’s an information page about the model’s history and its most recent display.

We all know that physical model work for film and television has largely been replaced by computer-generated imagery which allows for the realization of visual effects unimagined at the time of the original Star Trek series. The newer medium has continued to improve with leaps and bounds as technology advances, producing results which at times can be breathtaking. Still, it’s difficult for me to imagine harboring feelings for a computer-generated spaceship that rival the nostalgia I hold for artifacts like the original Enterprise.

Happy Birthday, Big E!

2 thoughts on “Happy 50th Birthday to the original Starship Enterprise!

Lay it on me.

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