The Starship Enterprise Is Coming in for a New Landing at the Smithsonian

This artifact in the Air and Space Museum collections boldly returns to public view

This partial plastic and wood mock-up was made by staff of Industrial Light & Magic who are volunteering to help with the finishing effects. Allison Shelley
A 1991 system for lighting the ship’s nacelles—the pods housing the warp drives—is being replaced with an LED system that will come closer to the original flame effects. Allison Shelley
A component of the impulse deck is removed as experts restore the model to its appearance during filming in August of 1967. Allison Shelley
To match the colors of the original paints, Wilson used an array of tools, including a high-tech colorimeter and old auto-paint chips that had belonged to his father. Allison Shelley
Sharon Norquest uses 600-grit sandpaper to reveal layers of the original paint as Dave Wilson (background) takes color readings. Allison Shelley
An X-ray fluorescence spectrometer was used to analyze metal parts. Courtesy of Bruker
A warp nacelle from the starship. After nearly two years of work, the model will return this summer to the Air and Space Museum on the Mall. Allison Shelley
Pieces of the USS Enterprise model, which is entering Phase 2 of conservation, lie on a table at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Allison Shelley
The model arrived at the Smithsonian in 1974 lacking most of its lights, and replacements burned hot and gave off damaging ultraviolet light. Specialists Will Lee (left) and David Wilson work on ways to deploy new LEDs, which give off little heat and no UV light. Allison Shelley
Original photographs and negatives from the Smithsonian Archives and individuals are helping conservators map the changes to the starship. National Air and Space Museum

After a conservation effort lasting almost two years, the model of the starship Enterprise that appeared in the original “Star Trek” television series is headed back for display at the National Air and Space Museum. Conservators subjected it to a slew of cutting-edge analyses—infrared and ultraviolet photography, microspectroscopy and even X-ray fluorescence spectrometry with a device that was designed to resemble a “Star Trek” phaser (though it functions more like a tricorder). The goal has been to restore the model as much as possible to its condition in August 1967, the last time it was modified for broadcast.

A previous museum treatment had led to some fanboy grumbling about the paint job (“Gives the model the appearance of an over-the hill movie star wearing cake makeup,” in one judgment), but Malcolm Collum, the museum’s chief conservator, says a great deal of “paint layer archaeology” has subsequently gone into getting it right. After it’s reassembled, the Enterprise will be beamed to a custom-made, climate-controlled case in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in time for the museum’s 40th anniversary, on July 1 (and the “Star Trek” series’ 50th, on September 8). And which milestone will this non-flying craft celebrate? “The museum has long been interested in how spaceflight has been imagined,” says Margaret Weitekamp, the museum’s curator of space memorabilia. “And this is the perfect object to represent that.”

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