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Inside the Enterprise Studio Model

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As the Museum is assessing the 11-foot studio model of the Star Trek starship Enterprise, we’re trying to provide occasional updates to the many fans of this iconic artifact of American culture. The shooting model, which has been in the Museum’s collection since 1974, was removed from public display in September 2014 in order to be assessed and prepared for exhibit in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, opening in July 2016. Right now, the Museum is completing a painstaking process of analyzing the model.

Notably, conserving the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model has allowed some wonderful cooperation between different branches of the Smithsonian institution. In December 2014 and again in January 2015, Tangara Cross of the National Zoological Park arranged for Marilyn Small and Peter Flowers, two National Zoo registered veterinary technicians (and Star Trek fans), to come to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, to examine the model used in filming of the original Star Trek television series (1966–1969).

Peter Flowers and Marilyn Small, of the National Zoo, position a portable radiography (x-ray) machine to capture the interior of the Star Trek starship Enterprise.

To give the Museum’s conservators a look inside the Enterprise model, Marilyn and Peter brought a portable radiography (x-ray) machine to the Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory, which is a behind-the-scenes work space at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport. Consisting of three pieces, the apparatus has an x-ray emitter that exposes a special digital photographic plate, which in turn communicates with a computer enabled with its own independent WiFi. But what really made it special was that this technology has also been used to examine zoo animals, even panda sensation, Bao Bao. (Talk about breaking the Internet! Consider combining the web power of Bao Bao and Star Trek!)

To organize the data, the radiology technicians/Star Trek fans first created a record for the “patient:”

ID: NCC-1701
Birthday: 1964
Sex: Other
Saucer as the “skull”
Secondary hull as the “body”
Nacelles as the “legs”

The x-ray apparatus produced images in a special format called “dicom” (which Peter explained, “makes a jpeg look like a pencil sketch”). To get each image, Peter and Marilyn worked with Engen Conservation Chair Malcolm Collum and Museum photographer Dane Penland to line up the radiography machine on one side of the artifact with the photographic plate positioned exactly opposite on the other side. They planned the overlapping images to provide a complete tricorder-like diagnostic of the model’s interior. As each image was shot, the digital plate communicated via WiFi with the laptop, capturing the image. To avoid a magnification effect, they positioned the plate as close to the body of the model as possible. They got the perfect exposure on the first try, based on Peter and Marilyn’s expert calculations comparing the probable density of the model versus the known density of biological specimens.

Working slowly, the participants planned the exposures to allow the images to be “stitched” together so conservators can get a more complete picture of the artifact. Our photographer, Dane, advised on how best to overlap the images so that they could be matched once the images had been taken back to a zoo computer to be processed. The composite image of the left nacelle shown here has been put back together by Museum conservator Ariel O’Connor. When printed at full size, it gives the conservators a clear map of the interior of the model, without disturbing any of the original structure. It’s worth noting how much the technology has improved since the last time the Enterprise model was x-rayed in the 1990s.

Studio model with an x-ray composite.

X-ray composite of the left nacelle.

The x-ray process involved a lot of back and forth—literally. Marilyn, Peter, and Malcolm wore lead shielding to protect themselves during the x-ray shooting. For the rest of us, after backing away during each shot to avoid being unshielded inside the scatter range of the x-rays, we all rushed back to the monitor as the image appeared to see what was revealed. Immediately, we could see the light bulbs inside the model as well as finishing nails, electronics, and wiring. Some of the images were so clear that we could see the grain in the wood used to build the model! The results will help the conservation team to make clear decisions about next steps when assessing the structure of the model.

From left Malcolm Collum, Peter Flowers, Margaret A. Weitekamp, and Marilyn Small.

It deserves mention that the entire group showed tremendous restraint. The group held off on using any Star Trek puns or doing their Scotty impressions until well into the saucer section shooting. Hey, we take our work seriously but we’re fans too.

Margaret A. Weitekamp is a curator in the Museum’s Space History Department.


See more photos from this day and the latest on the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall renovation project.

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24 thoughts on “Inside the Enterprise Studio Model

  1. Shouldn’t the sex be female? Scotty always said “_She_ canna take much more. Captain!”

  2. I feel a sense of pride that something that has meant so much to so many of us is receiving such loving attention. LLAP

  3. A ship is always a ‘she’. I’m so pleased that our lady is being so well cared for at the Smithsonian. The lady Enterprise and I have been friends for most of my life.

  4. I hope the X-rays won’t hurt the ship; I mean, anymore than Apollo, the Doomsday Machine, the Klingons, the Gorn, the First Federation, the Orions, the Metrones and driving through space for three years did. Glad to see it being repaired.

  5. Looks like the folks that did the magic of the X-ray imagery had “No TRIBBLE at all!”

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  7. The folks at StarTrekRisa.com are thrilled about this news. We’re 100% behind those who work to preserve the history of the Trek franchise and, in so doing, help to ensure Gene Roddenberry’s creation continues to boldly go where no one has gone before. Thank you for your efforts and LLAP. _\\//

  8. That remark about pencil sketches and jpegs dishonors some incredible pencil artists.

    And yes, ships are female.

  9. “SHE” is still a beautiful icon!! I hope when she is restored that the people who do the job will remove all that “weathered” stuff the last guy added to this ICON! The guy that damaged our Enterprise goes by the name of Ed Miaecki.
    Here is a line from that report. The link on the bottom takes you to that page.

    “The restoration performed by Ed Miarecki added details that were NEVER present on that model, damaging the miniature in the process.”

    Once there, keep scrolling after the story to read comments. There are 15 pages of them, click-able at the bottom.

    http://www.therpf.com/f10/enterprise-restoration-project-129807/

    May the wind always be at her back. Thank you Mister Roddenberry!

  10. I’m with you Mark. I would love to see that atrocious weathering effect removed, and the lovely lady restored to her original beauty. I would also love to see the bridge cap lowered just a bit as it just looks too high… and if I’m not mistaken, the original nacelle caps had a slight reddish tint to them instead of being clear… although I’m not entirely certain about that.

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  13. In the 1970s I was in Boy Scouts on a trip to Washington DC – we went to the NASM and I had no clue I would see her there. I went upstairs and looked up and saw her – I was surprised – she was the most beautiful ship of my imagination. Dad and I never ever missed Star Trek after dinner each night. Seeing the actual ship totally blew my mind. I am so glad she’s in VERY good loving hands in restoring her to all her majesty and glory !! – I am 48 now, and I cannot wait to get back to DC and see her all cleaned up in her new location

    Mr Scott would be very proud !!!

    A great tribute to a legendary icon !! BOLDY GO !

  14. Ships are She in English, I believe in Russian they are He (Hunt for Red October) and enemy ships are usually It.

  15. I was happy to proved photos to the Smithsonian for their restoring project of the Original USS Enterprise.

    I had many blue screen shots that were sent you them, along with others I hace collected over the years. Also, I like to give my friends at Star Trek History,”Dave T, proved some help as well, and my Friend Marc Cushman, “These are the Voyages.. provided photos..

    Thanks to all the fans too, because it really would have never got this far… Ship is being restored to it’s original look, as it was in the later part of the 3rd season 1969..

    Mike Makkreel

  16. You are going to mess this one up royally. You have no intention of letting the real trekworks experts anywhere near it. Shame on you.

  17. You have no idea the merchandise that we found under the display when “SHE” left. We still have customers coming down to see the Enterprise….we say it’s there,… just cloaked……then the truth, gone for restoration. I was hoping that someone could put the TARDIS in, but it was not to be.

  18. If the Big “E” is not on display, why not have a duplicate created as a “stand-in,” while the original piece is “out for restoration?” Or you could get really “hi-trek,” and install a hologram of the model?

  19. That’s a fantastic idea. Fortunately we are only a few weeks away from the Enterprise coming back on display (July 1).

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