The newest Star Trek series, Star Trek: Lower Decks, is all about roaming the galaxy with a starship that isn't exactly tasked with seeking out new life forms. In fact, as the first episode of Lower Decks revealed, the mission of the starship USS Cerritos is to seek out alien life that everyone 100 percent already knows about, and follow up with a "second contact." While more famous Trek starships also had to do some boring maintenance work (the Enterprise was bringing extra salt to some wayward colonists in the very first aired episode of Trek), the voyages of the Cerritos are unique because the ship's scrappiness is built into the premise of the show.
But, prior to the Cerritos, what are the scrappiest ships in the history of Star Trek? For the purposes of this list, any of the Enterprises are excluded, as is the USS Voyager, the USS Discovery, and both USS Defiants from Deep Space Nine. We're also just sticking to Starfleet ships, otherwise, we'd be talking about the La Sirena, and Captain Kasidy Yates' freighter, the SS Xhosa. So, for now, here are the 13 scrappiest Starfleet ships in all of Star Trek canon, and how they made the USS Cerritos possible.
**Mild spoilers ahead for all of Star Trek.**
It's been a long time! Yep, that's right, you've seen this ship several, several times, but you're not really sure why. And then you remember: What was that starship right before the NX-01 Enterprise in the opening credits of Enterprise? You know, when the song is going "I've got, I've got, I've got... faith." Well, it's the SS Emmette, and that name is only partially canon because of the Star Trek Starships Collection publication.
And, I already might be breaking my own rule. We don't know that this was a Starfleet ship per se, we only know that it came after the Phoenix and before the NX-01. This ship is so scrappy that it only exists in context with being the ship before the NX-01. Talk about living in another starship's shadow! Let's get some love for this little thing.
The USS Essex is such an unloved Starfleet ship that it is literally heard and not seen. Remember when alien beings took over the bodies of Data, Troi, and O'Brien in the episode "Power Play?" Those aliens were pretending to be crewmembers from the 22nd-century starship USS Essex, which was a Daedalus-class ship. We've never really seen these things in canon, but we have some models of some Daedalus-class ships hanging out in people's offices. The design is loosely based on an early Matt Jefferies design for the TOS version of the Enterprise. The biggest difference is that instead of having a saucer section, it has a big, round, spherical section.
This class of starship was also probably what the USS Archon and the USS Horizon looked like, referenced in "The Return of the Archons" and "A Piece of the Action."
These days, many of us associate the name Equinox with a canceled gym membership. But in a mega-Voyager two-parter, the USS Equinox was like a version of Voyager where nobody was nice. And they weren't even from the Mirror Universe! The Equinox gets scrappy points if only because it's the only other Starfleet ship that was stranded in the Delta Quadrant, and seemingly, nobody at Starfleet was interested in figuring out a way to get them back home. Maybe everybody just knew?
For a long time, Trekkies thought the name of this ship was the USS Akira, but actually, it's called the USS Thunderchild, and it's just an Akira-class ship. (Akira, is, of course, the beloved anime cyberpunk film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo.)
Anyway, in Star Trek: First Contact, this slick ship was glimpsed helping the Enterprise-E take out the big Borg Cube. The ship is named for a British warship in the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds, which is all about repelling an alien invasion. Pretty scrappy.
Like the Cerritos in Lower Decks, the mission of the USS Grissom was to just follow up on what another starship had done. In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the entire job of the Grissom was to check out the Genesis planet and explore its possibilities. Considering this crew included David Marcus (Kirk's son), Saavik (Spock's number one student), and that amazing Ensign who gives some serious side-eye to the captain, the Grissom could have been the scrappiest ship, ever.
However, because of the simple fact that Captain Esteban was the worst, we really didn't get to know these folks, did we? Make no mistake, some of Lower Decks feels like a riff on the Grissom.
It's sabotage! When the rebooted USS Enterprise is destroyed in Star Trek Beyond, the crew needs a new ride. Thankfully, there's a Warp-4 capable starship that crashed about a century before, and you bet Scotty and Jaylah can rig it up to fly.
Chronologically, the Franklin derives from the pre-Enterprise era, as a direct predecessor to the NX-01. Presumably, it was given that "USS" prefix after the Federation was formed in 2161. But, in real life, the ship's name is really the Frank Lin, because it's named after director Justin Lin's dad.
Any ship named Saratoga
There are two ships named USS Saratoga that are prominent in Star Trek, and both of them look exactly the same. In The Voyage Home, you've got the Miranda-Class USS Saratoga, which is the first ship to get its power drained by the Whale Probe. Then, in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's very first episode, "The Emissary," Sisko is on a different USS Saratoga that is eventually destroyed by the Borg. It was, apparently, also a Miranda-Class ship.
While neither of these ships has screen time that is very long, both of them take a beating so other starships can succeed. If a third USS Saratoga appears in Lower Decks or Picard Season 2, we kind of already know what's going to happen, right?
The original Miranda-class starship is, of course, the USS Reliant from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Famously, the Reliant was commandeered by Khan early in the film, but prior to that, it had not one, but two former Enterprise crewmembers aboard. You all remember Chekov as the Reliant's First Officer, but there was also Commander Kyle, who, in TOS, was one of Scotty's back-up technicians on the transporter.
The Reliant's design was also the inspiration for the USS Cerritos in Lower Decks. Speaking to the How to Kill an Hour Podcast, series creator Mike McMahan said: "I wanted to take the Reliant and then put it into a version of the Next Gen look of ships — and then on top of that, it’s a support ship so it can’t look as cool as all the other ships. It can’t be as easy to get around in it."
So there you go: The newest scrappy Starfleet ship wouldn't exist without the Reliant existing first.
Jean-Luc Picard commanded the Stargazer for a whopping 22 years before he took command of the Enterprise in 2364. It was not the first ship he served on (that would be a different Reliant) but certainly the ship he talked about the most. The Stargazer was a Constellation-class starship, that, by the time of TNG, had existed for at least 30 years. The Stargazer saw action in the Cardassian Wars, and infamously, faced the Ferengi in the Battle of Maxia. The Stargazer appeared in only one episode ever, the TNG episode "The Battle." A golden model of a Constellation-class ship was seen in Picard's Ready Room for numerous episodes after that, and in the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, "Remembrance," a model of the actual Stargazer was seen in Picard's personal archive.
The ship was also the first ship to do "The Picard Maneuver," a fancy trick where you jump into warp really briefly to make it look like you're in two places at once. It's a move worthy of Han Solo and Picard did it on the Stargazer. The only other famous Trek character who served on this ship was Jack Crusher, Wesley Crusher's dad who died while on the Stargazer under Picard's command.
You might say that the Shenzhou shouldn't count as a "scrappy" ship since it's so prominent in the first two episodes of Discovery. That said, the larger mythology of DISCO tells us the USS Shenzou is actually really, really old, and has probably been in service since at least 2240. It's a Walker-class starship, and it seems like its design pre-dates the Constitution-class starships of TOS.
The Shenzhou also has the unique distinction of having a Mirror-universe counterpart that was not destroyed, while the Prime-universe version was. That's right, the ISS Shenzhou might still be out there somewhere!
The little ship that began the 2009 Star Trek reboot is hands-down one of the most under-loved ships of Trek. Jim Kirk's dad was on this ship, and he was played by Chris Hemsworth two years before Hemsworth was Thor! On top of that, the Kelvin is later seen in Trek 2009 as a salt shaker in a bar where Kirk (Chris Pine) gets into a big fight.
The Kelvin is also named for one of J.J. Abrams' friends, which is why Rey also talks about "Kelvin Ridge" in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In-universe, though, you could make the case that Starfleet named the ship after Kris Kelvin, the protagonist of the novel Solaris.
The TNG episode "Cause and Effect" is not a comedy by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, there is something a little bit funny about time-loop premises in general. In this episode, the Enterprise is trapped in a time loop and keeps running into another, smaller ship, which causes both ships to be destroyed, which makes the time loop to start all over. By the end of it, the crew figures out how to send information from one time loop to the next, and eventually breaks free. (This is the kind of time loop where your memory is erased, so, not Russian Doll)
Data notices that the crew has been stuck in the time loop for 17 days, but the other ship they've been crashing into over and over again — the USS Bozeman — has been stuck in there for 90 years. Bummer!
The Bozeman looks a bit like a Miranda-class starship, but because it has a different little doohickey over the saucer section, it turns out it's actually a Soyuz-class ship. That name is derived from the Russian spacecraft type prominent in the '60s and '70s. The Bozeman itself is probably named for Bozeman, Montana, which is the place where Vulcans made First Contact with humans in the year 2063.
USS Defiant (TOS)
You forgot about this Defiant, didn't you? Way before Deep Space Nine had its badass version of the Defiant, the classic Trek gave us a sister ship of the USS Enterprise called the USS Defiant. This ship gets the number one slot for being the scrappiest Trek ship ever because of the simple fact that it went on the strangest journey.
In its first appearance in "The Tholian Web," the Defiant is phasing in and out of our dimension and into another one. Captain Kirk is briefly turned into a kind of interdimensional ghost who haunts both the Defiant and the Enterprise. By the end of "The Tholian Web," the Defiant winks out of our universe and goes... somewhere else.
Literally four decades later, in the Enterprise two-parter "In a Mirror Darkly," we learn that the Defiant traveled into the evil Mirror Universe, but also into the past of the Mirror Universe. Let's just repeat that: The Defiant not only traveled to a parallel dimension but it time-traveled while doing so. This would be like Marty McFly ending-up in a bizarro version of the Wild West ruled by vampires in Back to the Future III.
This means that the Defiant retroactively gives the Terran Empire in the Mirror Universe advanced knowledge of the United Federation of Planets, way before the Federation even exists in the regular universe. The journey of the Defiant was central to the Discovery Season 1 episode "Despite Yourself," because, really, without this ship's topsy-turvy journey, nobody in either universe would understand anything at all. If it weren't for the Defiant, TOS cosplay would have never happened on the show Enterprise. And, Emperor Georgiou would have never known where Michael Burnham was from in Discovery.
Pour one out for the Defiant!