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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. “john says:
    December 6, 2011 at 1:18 am

    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……”

    I wonder if there is an item in the Smithsonian more unique than something that there is only one of. I wonder if there is an item that is more “genuine” than the actual, original item, instead of a copy or replica, or “best guess” at what something looked like. I wonder if there is an exhibit that is more real than….well, a real exhibit.

    Can you clarify?

  2. Its theoretically not a replica, since it’s the actual ship used in the show. So it is one of a kind and is a part of history. The way things have been copied and developed from Star Trek fiction, into real things: one day we will look back and see this as being a prototype for future spaceships. I think it’s awesome, and can’t wait to see it in person!

  3. A piece of history. The current restoration is a travesty. Thankfully they left the upper primary hull intact, as it appeared during the series.

  4. I was there just before the Air and Space Museum had ever opened to the public, maybe a month before it opened. I told the guard at the door that I came from New York and I wanted to take pictures of the Enterprise for a high school newspaper. He was hesitant and did not want to get into any trouble. However, he let me and my friend in. He said if we were here in the afternoon we could have touched it since it was apart on the floor. A shame we missed it!!!
    The guard took us to where the Enterprise was just finished being hung in the air. There were cables hanging off it and the Nacelle caps were not attached showing the complicated inner workings. We were quickly taking pictures with my Polaroid (yes Polaroid) and my friends 35mm camera. This is still a strong and a favorite memory. Although I thought it was done nice I would have done a better job on the dish antenna and the Nacelle caps, in my opinion. A year or so ago I saw a you tube video of some guy video taping the Enterprise in its new clear box. I was shocked and very disappointed as what was done to my friendly Starship. How could this defacing be allowed to be done to her?? How dare those responsible for this “think” they can improve on what once was built originally. Whoever had done this travistry should be banned

  5. Given that we have now had an announcement that the Starship Enterprise will now be moved to the front of Air and Space in 2016, perhaps the Smithsonian might use this event to restore the model and repaint it to a more authetic colour? I appreciate that the previous restorationist did his best but a quick visit to see the Enterprise will detail how unfortunately heavy the grid lines are under the saucer. If the artist was hoping they would fade over time, they have not. When you view the top of the saucer, it certainly appears more like the original Enterprise (i.e. just a hint of grid lines and a more subdued colour). Even from digital photos that I have taken myself, the top of the saucer seems far more like the original images of the Enterprise. The bottom of the saucer, not so much.

    I hope the Smithsonian does the Enterprise credit with its new home. Thanks for the chance to comment.

  6. I was browsing YouTube when I saw the heavy etched primary hull lines currently on display in the Smithsonian. I do not recall these etched lines when watching TOS nor did I remember this being the case when I saw the Enterprise many years ago hanging proudly in main hall of the Smithsonian.

    I find it difficult to believe Matt Jefferies wanted hull lines so visible from such a distance! Certainly, the current restored model bears little resemblance to the smooth hull featured on the original TV series. I’m surprised ‘Americas Attic’ would attempt to ‘improve’ upon a historic model in such a drastic fashion! There is little doubt such flagrant artistic license in any other exhibit would be unwelcome at best.

    If the Smithsonian were planning to restore this iconic model again, I’d be pleased to see the heavy etch lines removed entirely from primary hull, and introduced only in pencil as was on the original.

  7. Thank you for your feedback. You may be pleased to know that the Museum announced, in April 2014, that the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model will have a new display location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, opening in July 2016. As a result, it will be removed from its current location in mid-September so that the Museum’s conservators can examine it. The final plan for the model’s treatment will depend upon what is found during the physical examination of the artifact

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  9. I was in Silver Hill when the Enterprise was being packed for shipping back to Hollywood for the filming of the first Star Trek movie. I snapped a few pictures of it sitting in the warehouse.

  10. My father would have hoped that his “Enterprise” would be restored as he delivered it to Howard Andersons in the 1960’s. The paint on the top of the saucer has been said to be original but the weathering on the bottom was not original, as my father has stated there were no lines and no lights in it when it was delivered as well as no lights in the nacelle caps as they were solid wood, but later removed when lights were added for the 2nd & 3rd years of the series as requested by Gene.

    The Enterprise model is and always will be a thing of beauty and an iconic historical television prop.

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