The Original Starship Enterprise from 'Star Trek' Is Getting a Face-Lift

U.S.S. Enterprise's Restoration
Just in time for Star Trek's 50th anniversary, the original U.S.S. Enterprise model used in The Original Series is undergoing extensive restoration at the National Air and Space Museum. (Image credit: National Air and Space Museum)

The voyages of "Star Trek's" USS Enterprise now include an extensive restoration at the hands of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Work on preserving the 11-foot (3.4 meters) model craft is now underway, in an effort to make the ship resemble how it looked in the episode "The Trouble with Tribbles." That episode was the last known modification to the model during the run of "Star Trek." The model appeared in all 79 episodes of the original "Star Trek" TV series, which ran from 1966 to 1969.

"It will go back on public display in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall this year, in time for the museum's 40th birthday in July and the 50th anniversary of 'Star Trek' in September," museum officials wrote in a blog post on Jan. 28. [Pictures of Original USS Enterprise Model Restoration]

Museum officials will paint the Enterprise in April using reference photos from the model's history, partly gathered from Trek fans who took pictures of the ship over the years. The engine casings (nacelles) will house LED lights that will mimic what fans saw on the TV show.

"The LED lights can be programmed to match the original VFX [visual effects] footage while eliminating the burnt-out bulbs, extreme heat and motor problems that troubled the original lights," said museum conservator Ariel O'Connor in the same statement. "It is a wonderful solution to re-light the nacelles while ensuring the model's safety and longevity."

Meanwhile, the model has been separated into its components for individual study, photographing and X-raying to determine their condition. So far, conservators have found that the secondary hull needs a metal collar to stabilize the structure, which is currently held together by old adhesive and no other support.

Analysis revealed many levels of paint overlaying the structure, applied during four generations of filming and four previous restorations. Only one exterior spot, the top of the saucer, had the original paint. That part will be cleaned and stabilized, while everything else will be painted to match the original hull's gray color. (A large portion of that shade of gray was also found under the saucer bolt cover, making matching fairly simple.)

To advise on the paint job, the museum added two new experts to its advisory committee: Academy Award-winner Bill George from Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Kim Smith, now with Creature Art & Mechanics Digital and formerly with ILM.

These two members, along with current advisor John Goodson of ILM, have combined experience on eight "Star Trek" films and four episodes of "Star Wars." Also, Smith's father — mural artist William A. Smith — advised artist Robert "Bob" McCall as he painted the museum's mural "The Space Mural: A Cosmic View."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: