National Air and Space Museum

Shields up! Protecting the Enterprise From UV Rays

Star Trek Starship Enterprise studio model used in filming the original 1960s television series. Credit: National Air and Space Museum
Star Trek Starship Enterprise studio model used in filming the original 1960s television series. Credit: National Air and Space Museum

Shields up, Captain! Or in this case, shades down.

In June 2016, in preparation for the opening of the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall on July 1, 2016 (the 40th birthday of the Museum’s building on the National Mall), the Museum installed the 11-foot studio model of the Star Trek starship Enterprise in a custom case near the Independence Avenue entrance. It’s a great location. Having a filming model from an iconic science fiction franchise on one side of Milestones of Flight created a metaphorical conversation between that imagined vision of spaceflight and the real aircraft and spacecraft showcased in the Hall’s north atrium. The redesigned exhibition not only emphasizes the science and technology of flight, but also tells stories about people, politics, business, and culture.

Even after the successful opening, one lingering problem remained: The Earth orbits the Sun. (Don’t laugh!) The progression of our planet around its star means that as October turns into November, morning sunlight streams through the two-story-high windows on the south side of the building. Given the location of the Enterprise case, the autumn and winter light extends far enough into the gallery to reach the artifact. The special glass in the case shields the model from most UV radiation, but visible light can still damage artifacts.

So, the Museum designed printed Lutron shades to go inside the case. On winter mornings, the shades deploy to provide the protection that the artifact needs. The goal was two-fold: First and foremost, the Museum needed to protect the artifact. Second, deploying the shades created an alternate display condition for the artifact. Rather than finding their view of the artifact blocked during the times when it needed to be protected, guests would experience the Enterprise model in a new way, in front of a backdrop evocative of its television appearances.

When the shades are deployed, the Enterprise model appears to orbit above a red planet set in a starfield. (National Air and Space Museum)
As the text on the shades explains, “Shields Up! Whenever solar radiation (sunlight) threatens the starship Enterprise, these shades deploy.” (National Air and Space Museum)

To provide the appropriate backdrop, the Museum called upon the continued assistance of the special advisory committee that advised the Museum’s conservation of the Enterprise model. The final plans for the shades incorporated contributions and talent from across the Star Trek universe: concept designer and illustrator Andrew Probert’s ideas, using production consultant Gary Kerr’s graphics, with text edits by memorabilia collector Adam Schneider (in the font recommended by artist Doug Drexler and supplied by graphic designers Michael and Denise Okuda), applied according to the guidelines provided by John Van Citters, vice president for product development at CBS Consumer Products. In front is the magnificent artifact, conserved by Engen Conservation Chair Malcolm Collum and the Museum’s staff, with detail painting by special effects artists Bill George, Kim Smith, and John Goodson, using Star Trek illustrator Rick Sternbach’s paint masks and decals. The whole crew had a hand in this!

The end result protects the artifact and adds to the exhibit. If you get to see the model in person, you’ll get to see the model’s internal lights illuminate at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm.

Margaret Weitekamp

Dr. Margaret A. Weitekamp curates the Museum's social and cultural dimensions of spaceflight collection, more than 4,000 artifacts that include space memorabilia and space science fiction objects. These everyday mementos of the space age – which include toys and games, clothing and stamps, medals and awards, buttons and pins, as well as comics and trading cards – complete the story about spaceflight told by the Museum's collection of space hardware and technologies.

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