There have been many Enterprises in history: There was the French frigate, L’Enterprise, captured by the Brits in 1705 and rechristened Her Majesty’s Enterprise, and America’s USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear aircraft carrier. These Enterprises are unimportant, by solitary dint of not being flung through the stratosphere and into outer space under the impetus of Gene Roddenberry’s imagination. No. The only Enterprises we care about are designated NCC-1701.
The ship that went on a five year mission “to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before” is an odd-looking ship. It may, in fact, be the first space ship in scifi to eschew an aerodynamical design, and thus recognize you don’t need to be flight worthy to fly through outer space.
The first Enterprise, NCC-1701, was commissioned in 2245, its components beat together by rugged, carbon-smeared workmen (at least, according to the trailer for J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek reboot) in the San Francisco Navy Yards, while the vessel itself was constructed in outer space. It has the sleek lines of a strange fish: A slender neck supports an impossibly large, flat and heavy head. It is this head — the saucer — along with the two glowing nacelles that unite all subsequent Enterprises in a harmony of sympathetic design. You can tell an Enterprise with just a glance.
Despite the magnificent prologue of the original Star Trek’s credit crawl, the NCC-1701 Enterprise went through many captains on many five-year missions. James T. Kirk is the man who “made” the Enterprise, but it had two captains before him (Robert April and Christopher Pike) as well as two captains after him (Willard Decker and Spock). Ultimately, though, it was Kirk who put the Enterprise to rest, blowing her up at the end of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock to save his crew.
Ironically enough, though, the Enterprise would return the favor.
The next Enterprise, the Excelsior class NCC-1701B, would ultimately
prove the end of Admiral Kirk in Star Trek: Generations. It
is on this Enterprise’s maiden voyage that Kirk is sucked into space
and into the Nexus, a ribbon of energy that leads to an alternate
dimension of bliss and static time.
Not much is known about the NCC-1701-C, save that it had a hero’s death. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation
episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the NCC-1701-C kicked off an
alternate nightmare future for the Federation when it traveled through
a time rift to escape annihilation from the Romulans during the battle
over Narendra III, a Klingon outpost. Without the NCC-1701-C’s selfless
sacrifice, the Federation never makes peace with the Klingons,
eventually leading to the Federation’s near destruction. The
NCC-1701-C, however, chooses to go back in time and die to correct the
Next comes the second most important Enterprise, the sleek
NCC-1701-D. It is piloted by a bald Frenchman who speaks English with
Received Pronunciation, likes his Earl Grey hot and — inexplicably —
populates his bridge with androids who can not use contractions,
violent Klingons, obnoxious pre-teens and spandex-clad empaths with no
useful skills whatsoever. He is a mystery, but Picard’s NCC-1701-D is
perhaps the second greatest ship in Federation history: It
single-handedly puts the Borg back in their place, defeats maniacal
impish space gods, and repairs the very fabric of time-space before it
meets an ignominious end in Star Trek: Generations, hacked by
two second-rate Klingon villains and crash-landed on the surface of an
(We’d be remiss, though, if we didn’t mention that because
the NCC-1701-D often found itself caught up in various time paradoxes. In the aforementioned
episode of “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” it becomes a black warship, and in
the finale episode of TNG, “All Good Things Must Come To An
End,” the Enterprise is shown still in service as of 2395, although it
has been fitted with a third warp nacelle and a cloaking device.)
But it doesn’t end there. Now over 80 years old, Jean-Luc Picard
will always be found on the deck of a Starship Enterprise… this time
the Sovereign-class NCC-1701-E. Like all Enterprises, in its brief
career it has traveled back in time. It has also faced the Borg. And,
unfortunately, it has had two other lame, utterly forgettable
adventures, because the last two Star Trek movies were just terrible.
Which brings us back to where we started: the NCC-1701, the original
Enterprise, now re-launched by J.J. Abrams and helmed by a new cast. “A
five year mission, to explore strange new worlds…” Some of those
explorations will doubtlessly change the very fabric of the canon that
we know and love, much like the NCC-1701’s backwards journey in time.
But we should welcome the new, brave future: After all, the canon of
the Enterprises has become an absolute mess.