An original, surviving scale model of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek: The Original Series has been hanging behind glass, surrounded by lights, in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s basement gift shop for years (see Exhibit A at the end of the post below). And it’s getting the worse for wear, with the paint chipping, and the model, well, erm, sagging.
Frankly, the museum’s basement gift shop is quite the ignominious location for such a piece of sci-fi history. Thankfully, the 11-foot model will finally be getting a new home in 2016, after some extensive restoration from the museum is done, efforts that have gained some viral attention after Capt. James T. Kirk himself, William Shatner, had a funny exchange about the whole thing with NASA in a series of tweets.
Now, here’s a bit of interesting background info for the Enterprise model. It was donated to the Smithsonian in 1974, five years after the series ended in 1969. It spent time in the Arts & Industries Building before being recently sent to the gift shop area. It was taken down in 2014 by the museum in order to begin the conservation efforts. Conservator Margaret Weitekamp explained:
“We took it off display in September 2014 because we were getting it ready for a new location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, which will open in July of 2016. We have been doing the evaluation that we’ve needed to do in order to figure out how to structurally stabilize the model, clean it and prepare it for its new display location.”
This will not be the first time the model has been the focus of restorations works. In fact, it was done three times, but the 1991 restoration drew some criticism for its paint job -- in other words, it sucked. Star Trek model collector Adam Schneider, who is on an advisory committee for the ship’s restoration, explained that “it was too weathered and there were grid lines that were too extensive; that’s the key aspect of concern.”
Margaret Weitekamp also explained that “before the model came off display, we could see the two nacelles were starting to sag and spread apart slightly.” Ouch! Our little Trekkie heart is bleeding right now.
Bill Shatner’s tweets sure have brought a lot of attention to the project, something that's making Weitekamp more than a little happy:
“I think it’s wonderful that people are noticing what we’re doing with the artifact. The Star Trek fan community really still feels very much an ownership of this piece and we are working hard to be responsible to the history of the artifact and also to the passion of the fan community that loves this so much.”
She also added that Shatner’s presence at the unveiling next year — right on time for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek: TOS -- “would be a lot of fun.”
Do you think the Shat will take up the museum conservator’s invite and put in an appearance at the unveiling?