When the National Air and Space Museum opened in 1976, the production model of the Starship Enterprise was prominently and dramatically displayed hanging at the entrance of “Life in the Universe” gallery.
Later, when that gallery closed, and the starship was moved to several other locations within the museum.
Though these were dramatic displays, hanging the starship from the ceiling was not entirely favorable. It had to be hung well above viewer’s heads, safely out of the reach of curious hands. From there, it could only be seen from below, which did not offer the best viewing, certainly not for loyal fans. In addition, hanging the starship left it at the mercy of accumulating dust and grime – a very serious issue in museums.
In fact, the starship had not been built to be hung. When filmed for the television series Star Trek, it rested upon a stand. This stand, only 17 and a half high inches and ten and a quarter inches wide, seems scarcely substantial enough to support the eleven foot by five foot starship.
By 1999, the starship had been hung, frequently moved, and re-hung for close to a quarter of a century. Museum staff responsible for caring for the starship determined that a close examination of the structure was required. Maryland QC Laboratories (MQC Labs, Inc.) at Aberdeen, Maryland, were contracted to do an X-Ray analysis of the starship, with special emphasis on possible stress at the attachment points, where the cables from which the starship was suspended were attached to the ship itself.
After considerable discussion, museum staff decided not to hang the starship any more. Instead, a special case was built for it, and it now rests upon two stanchions specially built to hold it. The case protects the ship from dust, grime and fingerprints, while at the same time, presents the model at eye-level, so that the serious (and the merely curious) viewer can study it closely, and from all sides. Alongside the starship is the original stand it rested on, when filmed for the television show.
Gregory K. H. Bryant is Museum Registrar in the Office of the Registrar at the Smithsonian, National Air and Space Museum.
To see the “Enterprise” Model on display, visit the lower level of the National Air and Space Museum Store at the National Mall Building in Washington, DC.