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Restoration of the Starship Enterprise

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The original studio model of the Starship Enterprise used in the television series “Star Trek” came to the Smithsonian Institution thirty-five years ago, donated by Paramount Studios in 1974.

When the television show ended in 1969, the starship had been crated and stored at the studios.  Over time, heat, cold, humidity and other elements had taken a toll on the structure, the wiring and other internal components as well as the exterior paint scheme.  Before it could be put on exhibit, extensive restoration was required.

The hull and one nacelle of the Starship Enterprise as it was received by the National Air and Space Museum from Paramount studios on March 1, 1974.

The first Smithsonian restoration took place shortly after the starship was received and was completed by July 29, 1974.  This restoration was coordinated with Matt Jeffries, one of the original designers of the starship, and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek.

The Starship Enterprise during its first Smithsonian restoration. SI Neg # 74-3977

A second restoration was done ten years later, between August  8, and September 11, 1984.  And a third restoration was carried out in the Winter of 1991.

The Starship Enterprise during its third Smithsonian restoration, December, 1991. Frank H. Winter, Photographer

In addition to these restoration and conservation efforts, on June 22, 1999, the starship underwent X-Ray analysis at QC Laboratories, Inc., in Aberdeen, Maryland.

The Starship Enterprise undergoing X-Ray analysis at QC Laboratories, Inc. Frank H. Winter, Photographer.

X-ray , detail.

X-ray photograph, detail.

In the 35 years that the National Air and Space Museum has held it, the Starship Enterprise has gone through in-depth conservation and restoration, making it one of the more extensively preserved and studied objects in the Museum’s collection.  It is currently on display in the lower level of the National Air and Space Museum Store, where every year it is seen by millions of people from all over the world.

Gregory K. H. Bryant is Museum Registrar in the Office of the Registrar at the Smithsonian, National Air and Space Museum.

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67 thoughts on “Restoration of the Starship Enterprise

  1. I know that the Smithsonian uses ca glue for skeletal reconstruction in the Natural History Museum. Does the Air and Space Museum use it as well?

  2. I don’t know, precisely, which glues were used on the restorations of the Starship Enterprise, or, generally, which glues are used by the Restoration Team at the Garber Facility. I have forwarded the question to Garber, and to one of the individuals involved with the 1991 restoration.


  3. Pingback: Original Restoration of the Starship Enterprise « Drex Files

  4. Does the museum have any future plans to ever restore E to her original glory in the tradition of her original paint-job, as opposed to the green-toned highly inaccurate one on her now?

    Thank you for these new (old) shots. :)


  5. What is that shown in the x-ray? It looks like a compact-fluorescent bulb in the secondary hull just behind the shuttle bay doors.

  6. Fascinating! A testimony to the enduring appeal of a timeless design. A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:its loveliness increases.

  7. Are more photographs available? As an avid modelmaker, I would love to see the X-ray series.

  8. Is the Enterprise ever going to be restored (again, and possibly to it’s original state)?

    Was there any justification for the model’s last paint job?

  9. Your inquiry elicited two responses from the Museum’s staff.

    Museum specialist Ed Mautner reports that he does use CA (cyanoacrylate) glue “as do most modelers in at least some assembly of most models. I have used it to repair some of the Museum’s models where two very dissimilar (plexi and wood or styrene and brass) materials need bonding.”

    Chief conservator Malcolm Collum emphasizes that such adhesives have limited applications, however. “CA’s are occasionally used in conservation but primarily as a spot-setting technique where pieces can be held in place to give a slow-setting primary adhesive time to cure. It is rarely used as a primary adhesive because of its poor reversibility characteristics and because it has a relatively short bond life expectancy. It can be dissolved but it is difficult and slow. It is also too hard and brittle for any join that needs to respond to movement caused by changes in temp or humidity. We rarely use it on artifacts.”

    We hope this helps.

  10. As a bit of a starship fan – bravo! What spectacular shots.

    I did recently see “the old girl”, and it might be time for a tune up.

  11. YES!

    NASM could make a lot of money selling a book that compiled the photos and X-rays.

    I’m in for two copies!

  12. Wow, love these photos!! Please post more of the Enterprise; particularly this arrival and x-ray photos.

  13. Please post more photos, especially those of the x-ray images along with descriptions of what we are seeing.

  14. Thank you for posting this! Is there any chance that reproductions of the photos from the various restorations will be made available, if not in some form of publication then perhaps individually?

  15. We do have many very detailed photographs of the various restorations, and will be posting those shortly, along with the X-Ray photographs, with caption information and more background information.


  16. A detailed reply here, from Robert McLean, Museum Specialist of the Restoration Team at the Garber Facility in Suitland, MD:

    I cannot think of an occasion where we have used CA adhesive in the restoration of objects in the restoration shop. We could argue that we only use reversible adhesives; oddly enough, CA adhesive may actually be one of the more reversible adhesives (they sell a de-bonder agent for people who stick their fingers together).

    The reality of our restoration process involves the use of carpenter’s wood glue, epoxies, contact cement, rubber cement, polyester resins, and specialized adhesives for aircraft fabric work, only some on our list are actually reversible.

    Conservators operate in rare air, and likely have their own protocols. I am anxious to see their contribution. Someday I can imagine an alignment, where we will have unified protocols across the spectrum of artifact treatments/restorations/conservations. We’re trying hard, we haven’t yet arrived.

    I hope that this helps…

    Bob McLean,
    Museum Specialist

  17. If you want to see the later “restoration/alteration” in progress:

    You can see the pencil lines in the process of being “enhanced” onto the top of the primary from pencil vestiges into plates and new lines being created on the bottom of the primary and around the edges.

    The CFL bulb mentioned above, most likely dating to the second or third restoration, can also be seen.

  18. It seems to me that the Smithsonian has a duty to preserve the historical artifacts they hold for the American people in thier original condition, without modifying them to fit someone’s notions of contemporary expectations. Does the fact that the Enterprise was used to create a television show somehow make it exempt from the same standards of curation that the museum applies to the rest of its collection?

    The new paint scheme is inaccurate and hideous, and was a huge mistake on the part of the Smithsonian.

  19. You are correct that the Smithsonian has a duty to preserve historical objects in our collections. The question of an object’s original condition, however, becomes complex as we study it more deeply.

    All objects change with time, and this is true of museum objects, as with all others. Original paints fade, wood, plastic and other materials become brittle, and must be replaced. Materials used at the time of manufacture become obsolete, and are no longer manufactured. As well, contemporary documentation of the object is subject to aging, and also to the technical limitations of the time. Those who work in restoration find that it is very much an art, not a science, and based very much on serendipitous detective work.

    Nor is any restoration the final word on any object. Restored objects age with time, and each object must be continually revisited throughout its lifetime.

    By no means is the starship Enterprise exempt in any way from the Smithsonian’s rigorous standards of curation, or preservation. In fact, because it is so very well-known, so passionately loved, and because of its unique historical significance, I might say that those standards have been even ratcheted up a notch, as they say. We preserve an extensive and detailed record of its history and its movements within the museum, and every treatment it receives is scrupulously documented.

    I cannot speak to the details of the most recent restoration work, nor to the aesthetics of it. Those discussions are properly held by the restorers and curators who were directly involved with that work. This restoration has provoked much commentary, some positive, some not so positive, all very strongly felt, and all reflecting the importance of this object. The National Air and Space Museum does take note of all these points, and these discussions do provide us guidance as we work to preserve these objects.

  20. I believe the logic used for the inaccurate paint job is that the studio lights “washed out” the details…however photos of the model from that time period, as well as photos of the smaller model indicate a vastly different paint job. For those of us who care very much about this artifact, it is as if someone gave one of the apollo capsules a quick coat of royal blue because it looked “nice” or added lipstick to the Mona Lisa.
    It should be corrected.

  21. I would love to see the model painted as it was during Star Trek’s third season. This model is not painted as it was during 1968. It’s known what the model looked like during that time and this, while interesting, isn’t original.

  22. I have to agree.
    It should be restored.
    At least get rid of the totally inaccurate grid lines on the lower primary.

  23. I just returned from Washington DC about two weeks ago and had the pleasure of visiting my favourite starship again at Air and Space. I must concur with the various opinions that the ‘new’ painting of the model certainly does not reflect what was seen on television. The green grid lines underneath the saucer should certainly be removed.

    More importantly, why is the model displayed in the gift shop? I must admit I was disappointed in this location. The lighting is terrible and the paned plexi-glass does not allow for good photography. Why not move the model to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (aka The Hanger) display near the Dulles Airport. There is far more room and the model could be properly lit. I also noted that the model/ship from Close Encounters is displayed in the same room as the Enterprise shuttle at the Hanger.

    Keep up the great work!

  24. I really think that if the restoration artists had been concerned with trying to *restore* the model to it’s original condition, they would have brought in as many pictures of the original as they could and tried to get it looking like it did on the TV screen.

    Look at it this way: Lucasfilm has hundreds of miniatures they used in the Star Wars films, including the Millennium Falcon 5-foot miniature. If LF had restored the Millennium Falcon in the same manner as the NASM restored the Starship Enterprise, it would probably be gray with bright red panels and heavy soot instead of off-white with rust panels, as it was originally painted. And the fans would have been outraged, especially the modelers who try to replicate the model as it was.

    Now, I think if they wanted to get it looking like it should, they would pay fan modelers to restore her. Sounds crazy, but I think they are the only ones who would have the passion and the skills necessary for a *proper* restoration.

    And at last, it may be an art, but that does not mean the artist should ignore the original state of the model to make it more . . . ‘hip’.

  25. I just don’t get it. A simple documented paint match when you received the model. Painting areas with garrish blue and green panel lines is the equivalent of painting scarlet red lips on the Mona Lisa. Shhhesh! You’re recreating AND destroying history!

  26. To be fair, the Smithsonian crew did, and always has done, a meritorious job of remaining true to the original condition of the Enterprise and anything they restore. Yes, the 1970s turkey red hemispheres were a mistake and the sensor dish could’ve been improved, but the model probably wouldn’t have been ready in time for the opening. At that time, though, the ship could only have been helped by later restorations and was in the subsequent successful second attempt. Now, it’s hurt. Probably irreparably damaged.

    Unfortunately in this last case, someone who presented himself as an expert on the Enterprise and Star Trek, not an employee, was in charge of the “restoration.” It was an admirable step toward bringing knowledgeable people in to cover the subject. It’s just unfortunate that this individual was the one chosen.

    Frankly, Paramount could’ve helped out with more source materials.

  27. Many people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the last restoration by Ed Miarecki, but a couple of statements made in these posts were clearly uninformed.

    First, the idea that ‘fan modelers’ could restore the miniature to its condition following cancellation of the series is ludicrous in so many ways. There are a large number of websites run by and for fans who build models. The endless debate regarding detail and coloring of the Enterprise filming miniature used in ST:TMP through ST VI demonstrates a lack of consensus and knowledge regarding a model that has a much better documented history (both in pictures and text) than the one in the Smithsonian. Given this wide base of ‘expertise’ that so often springs from inaccurate interpretation of photographic documentation and entrenched opinion formed in the absence of objective evidence, how could anyone believe that ‘fan modelers’ would be the perfect choice for an accurate restoration.

    Regarding Spurlock’s statement that “Unfortunately in this last case, someone who presented himself as an expert on the Enterprise and Star Trek, not an employee, was in charge of the “restoration”,” shows that he’s completely unfamiliar with the facts of the restoration, specifically, those who participated. Many industry professionals participated in the process including Steve Horsch and Greg Jein. At the time of the restoration, none of the Smithsonian personnel directly involved with the exhibit had anywhere near this level of familiarity with the model.

    Miarecki’s completed restoration actually does match shots created for the third season. While I think he’s commented that he wished the markings hadn’t been quite as prominent, the paint scheme he created was based on his knowledge of the way miniatures photograph and years of experience in creating models for filming in TV and features.

    Keep in mind that he had very little authentic fabric to easily work with. During the previous two restorations, every part of the model had been repainted a plain gray. The only area of the miniature off-limits in those restorations was the top of the primary hull which was the gray-green effect (complete with the penciled grid lines) replicated on other parts of the miniature. Tests and analyses of the layers of paint revealed that the original paint was a gray color, but Miarecki’s job was to restore the model to the condition it was in after production finally wrapped. The result was based on the best detective work available to him and his team.

    Remember that the model’s appearance was upgraded several times during the course of its life as a working miniature. Detail and lights were added as money became available. The Enterprise sitting in a plywood cradle outside Volmer Jensen’s Burbank model shop in the early sixties looked very different from the one that finally finished Star Trek’s third season. Starting as a very clean, static miniature, it evolved into a kinetically-lit and weathered model.

    Finally, “Paramount could’ve helped out with more source materials” is naive. Although the last few years (mostly due to auctions of Star Trek materials) have revealed the existence of more images and documentation (as well as props, costumes, etc.), people in the TV business did not, as a matter of course, document the creation of props and miniatures that were seen as disposable as the shows they were created for. There was no feeling in 1964 that Star Trek was anything other than another show that would run its course and eventually be cancelled, just like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. The fact that we have the very few images of the model after its construction and on soundstages is remarkable. And while it’s not impossible that a cache of photos might someday appear, it’s likely that the ones presently in circulation are the only ones in existence. The large-scale Enterprise was created in a very different environment than the ‘refit’ made for ST:TMP. In the latter case, the modelmakers and effects technicians (as well as the PR unit) knew that they were building something that would have impact beyond the single movie they were working on. This is one of the reasons that thousands of images of the feature Enterprise exist.

    So if the model as it currently appears seems wrong, some qualification is necessary: the team that performed the last restoration did not work in a vacuum nor did they approach their task in a cavalier fashion.

  28. Well, that’s as maybe, but I think the argument can still be made that Ed overdid the detailing by a longshot.

  29. Mr. Brooks, thank you for the insight. But I would point out that there is only one shot of the Enterprise in the third season that was not seen in the previous two. It was seen in That Which Survives and Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. I would also guess that that this shot was actually made in season two and just not used until season three but that is just that: a guess. If this is true then the 11 foot model was not out of it’s crate (or at least not in front of cameras) after the second season.

    I’m also in the camp that doesn’t think Ed’s paint job is all that over done.

  30. Having long been aware that the original Enterprise model was displayed at the Smithsonian, a visit to see it is on my “things to do before I die” list (I am several thousand miles away so not straightforward).

    But I’ve just seen photos on the web of the “restored” model and must say it looks hideous. I would rather not view it in such a state. I’m also quite put off to discover that the model is hanging in the gift shop, as if it’s just an unimportant curiosity rather than a valued exhibit.

    If I follow correctly, the last restoration was twenty years ago. I do hope a more sympathetic and expert revision is now due to such a significant artifact.

  31. Lets hope the do a great job. One thing somewhat similar to this I have always wanted to see is a fully-functional R2-D2. I don’t think its really too far out of humanities capability, maybe minus the rocket jets. We just need some billionaire to sponsor a competition and get it done!

  32. This is not a significant artifact. It’s a toy from a TV show that was romanticized by sci-fi enthusiasts. It has nothing to do with the history of Air and Space. It represents fiction, and it belongs in the gift shop. Yes it inspired a generation, but no, none of that generation was inspired to create a warp-drive, and although the show was enjoyable and I was a big fan, it has nothing to do with reality and it did nothing to change reality, unless you consider fanatics at trade shows wearing fake ears a significant effect on reality.

  33. All you need to do to prove how overly heavy-handed the weathering and paint work currently is on the restored sections is to compare it with the top saucer section of the model (still sporting original end-of-filming paint work, minus the bridge section of course)which shows very clearly a far less heavy handed approach. The idea that the weathering as it exists now was the way it was EVER painted previously is preposterous. Granted the position of the various panel lines and so on and the weathering PATTERNS are correct, the airbrushing effect is far too heavily exaggerated, and quite frankly, very sloppily done. And yes, the drawn on panel lines WERE on the bottom section of the saucer as well when shot, but were very much subdued. This is evidenced by careful study of some of the various photos of the model taken during production as seen on verious internet sites. The panel lines, lightly drawn in pencil, are most certainly there.

  34. Al Gee: You make a very valid point that the Enterprise model does not represent real achievements in Air and space flight as the other exhibits in this museum do, but you might want to canvas a few scientists, many of whom have cited Star Trek as an early inspiration, before stating that the show did nothing to change reality. It’s just a bit harder to quantify than the tangible achivements in the rest if the museum.
    Personally I think the model should have pride of place in a museum of film and television rather than look like a poor relation next to the Spirit of St Louis and the Apollo capsule.
    It is most certainly a significant artifact, but a cultural one.

  35. I just discovered this blog and am delighted to see it – please keep the pictures and behind the scenes info coming!

    After reading the posts here, I went and pulled out my files on the Enterprise, hope that some answers may be forthcoming to these questions.

    As far as treating the Enterprise model as seriously any other artifact in the Museum’s collection, the second restoration of the model had the wiring for the model duct taped to the unfinshed port side. This wasn’t what I would consider a NASM caliber restoration effort. Why was it approved? For that matter, instructions for all the restorations had to be authorized and supervised by someone on staff – the April/May issue of Air and Space Magazine has an article that states that Ken Isbell was assigned to monitor Ed Miarecki’s work on the third restoraton. If the records regarding each restoration are in the Museum’s files, can we see them? Somebody had to sign off on the way too exagerated gridlines on the lower half of the primary hull. The third season Trek episode “May That Be Your Last Battlefield” has a shot that zooms in on the lower half of the primary hull and ends with a closeup of the lower sensor plarform, and was only used once, in that third season episode. Why, with this clear evodence of how how that portion of the model appeared in the third season of the series, was the Miarecki gridwork approved?

    Was Richard Datin’s involvement with the model researched by the NASM? Articles on the true color of the Enterprise model are online, a color match was made from the overspray on a blueprint from a touch up that he did on the model. It wasn’t the 1969 Ford Gray that Ken Isbell stated in the Air and Space article that Ed Miarecki told him was the color match. An extensive interview with Mr Datin was done in the Star Trek Communicator Magazine where he details the work he did on the model and the fact that he was the one who cut the solid wood hemispheres off the front of the warp nacelles when the lighting system for them was installed – he still had them in his possession at the time the interview was done about 10 years ago.

    The last time I visited the model (I make the pilgrimage every few years or so), one of the acrlyic rods on the lower half of the primary hull was falling out and the cladding on the impulse engines was peeling away. Is maintenance ever done on the model in its current location?

  36. I have read through the blog and found it informative and exciting, and in some folks case maybe a little misguided.
    I have known about the original Enterprise there for quite some time and its’s definitly on my bucket list. I hope that the “heavy handed” restoration is fixed by then… I just thought it was faded and not been restored from the photos I’ve seen. Disappointing to find out it was intentional. Still I’m glad the time and effort is taken to keep alive such and important “artifact”. I thank you Smithsonian… As far as one comment about the Enterprise not being a “significant artifact” or “nothing to do with reality”… well small words of ingnorance… It was said that it had not inspired anyone to create a warp drive. well I’ve enjoyed Star Trek for a long time and I do know that the technolgy was derive from engineers concepts of future tech. The warp drive and how it works was from NASA’s theory of what would propel our space craft of the future. It wasn’t just fantasy pulled out of the air. A mystical widget if you will. The warp drive, the hypo syringe, the communicator and the tricorder were all concepts that were developed independently and in some cases before Sat Trek came around. We now have syringes that will inject through the skin. Communicator… have you seen a flip phone?, and if you look at a multitude of techs we have now, a tricorder is such far fetched or far off I would think. The creators of Star Trek wanted it to be as real, or maybe a better term would be “as possible” as it could be for our future reality. So they wanted it to be base as much on concepts and factual really as possible. I have read numerous articles on tech advances where engineers and others have sighted Star Trek as at least playing a small roll in there insperation.

    As far as the ship not being significant. It has made a huge impact on this world in both fantasyland and real life, across the boundries of race, sex, and culture. I imagine you could draw a outline of the ship and show it to as many people as you can in as many places and at least 90% if not alot more would reconize it. It’s arguably the most reconizable object in the world. Who could say that of the “Spirit of St Louis”(I choose it because it was mentioned earlier). The Spirit of St Louis was just a airplane, just like the one that was made before it and the one that was made after it, identical. So where is the significants there and why aren’t the others next to it. It was just a plane like any other until one day, some one had an idea… The concept that Star Trek brought and still to this day brings, is idealized more then any other. So I think that it’s impact on history, the future, and our society from fantasy and reality are both just to enormous to gange. Oh yea, it was a prop not a toy. But Because “geekdom” is still tabboo to the cool people, We may never know just how deep and wide spread the belief in the ideology of Star Treks reality really is.

  37. Matt ‘Jeffries came up with a “deflector grid” which was drawn in pencil on the primary hull. It was drawn only to satisfy Roddenberry and was done very lightly so it wouldn’t be visible on film.’ -Richard C. Datin, Jr. (10 October 1929 – 24 January 2011; age 81) was a professional model maker who built scale models for various Hollywood studios and TV commercials beginning in 1955.
    Eleven-foot model of the Enterprise (subcontracted to Production Models Shop owned by Volmer Jensen due to space and time restraints) in 1964/1965
    Subsequent modifications on both models in 1965 and 1966
    Enterprise’s shuttlebay in 1966
    Deep Space Station K-7 in 1967.

    Richard Datin – builder of the Enterprise 1929-2011

    In 1964 he was hired to build the three foot Enterprise miniature using plans created by Matt Jefferies. In Decemeber 1964, Datin subcontracted the construction of the eleven foot model to Volmer Jenson. Datin also oversaw later modifications to the studio models, as well as the construction of the shuttlecraft hanger and K-7 miniatures.
    He shared his wealth of knowledge with Star Trek fans and model builders. Richard Datin stated: “Jeffries also furnished paint chips, for which I had lacquer-based paint custom-matched by a Fuller’s Paint dealer on Olympic Blvd. in Los Angeles”…..”it was not a Ford or GM paint or primer as some “learned” souls have decried. It was a flat finish–a light grey color with a light tint of green.” – Here are the much anticipated paint specs for the “The Original Series” Enterprise, based on research provided by Richard C. Datin, the original builder of the 3′ (33in) and 11ft. (4x) filming miniatures, in late 1964.

  39. I find it slightly ironic that the item with the most comments is of a movie prop model, rather than any of the unique, genuine and REAL exhibits……

  40. Please Smithsonian, PLEASE repaint the Enterprise.
    There is NO excuse for what Ed Miarecki did to OUR ship.
    (I say ‘ours’ because it belongs to the world culture.)

    It looks like Ed took the model down to an airbrush paint tshirt store in the mall and had some 15 year old with a spraygun ‘have at it’.

    You guys have GOT to restore this treasure back to it’s original glory.
    Hell, just gray paint would be better than the ugly model it is now.

    Are the staff at the Smithsonian blind?

    (Shakes head)

  41. Pingback: Happy 48th Birthday to the original Starship Enterprise! | The Fog of Ward

  42. The Enterprise is coming apart. I have seen it. It is in a desperate need of restoration. It was restored in 1974 then again 10 years later in 1984 then again 7 years later in 1991. Don’t you think it is time to do it justice? You restore it 3 times in the first 17 years you have had it. It’s been 22 years since the last restoration. The condition warrants it. Not to mention you could fix the terrible green grid line shading that most along with myself agree is inaccurate to begin with.

  43. WOW, I saw this model back when the NASM first opened in 1976 and it looks like nothing now compared to back then it was hung in an obscure alcove and I asked a museum intern why the heck something this important was hanging 15 ft in the air, he just shrugged his shoulders and gave me a phone number to call …..BTW, does anybody have any info on the effect of the rotating lights in the fron domed warp nacelles , in a few eps they had a liniar sparkle-y effect and was real cool looking but later eps dropped it..Anybody know????

  44. When will the Enterprise be restored correctly? I was shocked and saddened to see that the museum, that prides itself on being the Nations attic has let this artifact become a shadow of its former self. Who can we contact to get this done? Where can we send the petitions? Who is responsible for this? If this his how they “restore” items from our past, it makes you seriously wonder how they are “restoring” the rest of our air/space history.

    I have been a fan of the museum since I was old enough to walk its halls. I am proud to say that I am a subscriber the Air and Space Magazine. I am asking, as a fan of both Star Trek, and US Air/Space history, please take care of this model, restore it correctly, and ensure it is there for future generations.

    Thank you for your time.

    Chris Lange

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