Star date: Jan. 31, 2016.
After 50 years of imaginary intergalactic service and epic flights of science fiction, the starship Enterprise, registry number NCC-1701, lies in pieces on a table at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.
X-rays of its insides hang on the walls of the conservation unit. Parts of the ship’s poplar-and-fiberglass hull are exposed. And the bridge, where fictional Starfleet Capt. James T. Kirk once sat, has been removed.
Enterprise is a venerable ship — launched in 1964 at a Burbank, Calif., prop maker’s shop for the original “Star Trek” television series.
It’s also a piece of history, along with the Wright Brothers’ “Flyer” and Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis.”
The museum is now restoring the make-believe voyager as a part of America’s real-life air and space heritage.
Paramount Studios gave the 11-foot-long Enterprise model to the Smithsonian in 1974, Malcolm Collum, the Air and Space Museum’s chief conservator, said Thursday.
The show, about the a starship’s crew of space adventurers, made its debut in 1966 and was canceled after three seasons.
“At that time, [the model] was just a discarded piece, a prop,” he said.
Star Trek, created by the late Hollywood screenwriter and World War II bomber pilot Gene Roddenberry, has become a global phenomenon, sparking several television shows and movies, books, comics — and legions of followers.
Crude by modern standards, the Enterprise model is being handled as a classic, if evolving, work of art.
“Its appearance changed numerous times throughout the [TV] series,” Collum said.
Conservators are striving to make the Enterprise look as it did in the 1967 episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” in which the ship is infested with the furry creatures, he said.
The original model, painted battleship gray, was made by the Production Models Shop, which built models for commercials, Smithsonian conservator Ariel O’Connor said.
It went back to the shop once for the addition of lights and windows, and was altered three times in the studio.
“We’ve mapped every single one of those changes,” she said.
Collum said the model had long hung in the gift shop of the Air and Space Museum on the Mall. Now it is headed for the renovated Milestones of Flight Hall there.
“The historical relevance of the TV show, and this model, has grown,” he said. “So it’s now being brought up into the limelight, and it’s going to be in the same gallery as the ‘Spirit of St. Louis’ [and] the Apollo 11 command module.”
Enterprise will go back on display this year, in time for the museum’s 40th birthday in July and the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek” in September, museum spokesman Nick Partridge said in a blog post.
But before that, deterioration of the model has to be addressed. Paint is peeling in spots. Parts of the four earlier restorations have to be corrected. And years of grime must be cleaned off, Collum said.
“But for being a model that was built by a shop that would build things for a quick TV episode and be done, it’s actually built remarkably well,” O’Connor said. “It’s very sturdy.”
It’s a half-century old, she said — a moment in star time, a small chapter in its continuing mission.