On September 11, 2014, the studio model of the Star Trek starship Enterprise, which has been on public display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum since 1976, was removed for conservation in preparation for its new display location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, which will open in July 2016. The announcement of the artifact’s inclusion in the transformed Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall was made on April 3, 2014.
The eleven-foot-long studio model was used in filming the original Star Trek television series, (NBC, 1966-1969). Paramount donated it to the National Air and Space Museum in 1974. Initially displayed beginning in September 1974 in the Arts and Industries Building’s Life in the Universe exhibit, this significant cultural icon has been displayed in various locations in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC since that building’s opening in July 1976, although it has also been off display occasionally. Since March of 2000, it had been in a custom-built display case on the lower level of the Museum’s store.
As an almost 50-year-old artifact, the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model needs some conservation before it can go back on display. It has been previously treated three times during its history at the Museum: in 1974, 1984, and 1991, but has not had any significant treatment other than basic dusting since 2000. The final plan for the model’s treatment will depend upon what is found during the physical examination of the artifact. It was taken off display in mid-September 2014 so that the Museum’s conservators have enough time for close evaluation and research.
The Museum’s general approach emphasizes conservation over preservation and preservation over restoration. Restoration is bringing an object back to its appearance and condition at a determined point in time in the past. With a restoration approach, there is less concern for preserving original materials and more focus on returning to the original specification, often through the addition of non-original materials. Preservation is an overall philosophy that favors keeping original material over creating an ideal physical appearance, while keeping the artifact from deteriorating any more. Conservation follows the preservation philosophy and is minimally invasive, utilizing scientific investigation and techniques to maintain original materials, preserving the object’s physical history of ownership and use.
The Enterprise model will not be on public view while it is being evaluated and treated. It is being moved to the Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Check the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall website and follow the Museum on social media for updates on the treatment of the Enterprise model – and the other artifacts in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.
Margaret Weitekamp is a curator in the Space History Department of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.