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Fascinating Trek Mysteries: Class Conflict -- Constitution or Enterprise?
by Greg Tyler
October 8, 2001
Updated April 3, 2004

For years fans of Star Trek technology have been interested in starships. One of the details that adds a sense of reality to Star Trek is the classification of Starfleet starships of a particular structural configuration into starship classes.

Page 7 of the June 20, 1967 edition of the Star Trek Writer & Director's Guide (Bible) describes the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 of the original Star Trek television series as being "a spaceship, official designation 'starship class'; somewhat larger than a present-day naval cruiser, it is the largest and most modern type vessel in the Starfleet service." Because the term "starship class" is listed in all-lowercase letters, one might speculate that the designation refers to a broad category of spacecraft, based on general characteristics such as size, mass, range, and/or other capabilities, rather than a descriptor of the Enterprise's specific design. Other interpretations are possible as well. In the original series, the Enterprise's dedication plaque, located in the turbolift alcove of the ship's bridge, reads in all-uppercase letters:

USS ENTERPRISE
STARSHIP CLASS
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF.

In 1968 Bjo Trimble published the Star Trek Concordance. This fan publication described the USS Enterprise of the original Star Trek television series as being a Constitution-class starship. This author once asked Bjo Trimble via email aobut the origin of the term "Constitution class." She recalled suggesting to Gene Roddenberry that the Enterprise's design probably wasn't the only type of space vessel in Starfleet, so a more descriptive term for the Enterprise's design might be appropriate in order to distinguish it from other designs that would ultimately never be seen in the television series.

In 1975 Franz Joseph published the Star Trek Blueprints and the Star Fleet Technical Manual, both of which were consistent with the Concordance's assertion that the type of starship represented by the USS Enterprise of the original Star Trek television series was called the Constitution class. Although some novels and other references, including the 1976 Ballantine-published version of Bjo Trimble's Star Trek Concordance, would refer to the USS Enterprise as a Constellation-class starship, the majority of Trek fans seemed content that the Enterprise of the television series was a Constitution-class ship. The class designation of the series-era Enterprise was finally confirmed on-screen in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the first-season episode "The Naked Now," as the crew of the Enterprise-D recall the NCC-1701's adventure from the original series episode "The Naked Time," the Enterprise is mentioned as being a Constitution-class starship. In the sixth-season episode "Relics," Picard recognizes the holodeck recreation of the Enterprise bridge as being a bridge of a Constitution-class starship.

Many of the same fans who embraced the television incarnation of the Enterprise as a Constitution-class starship considered its refitted version, first seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, to be an Enterprise-class starship. Fan-made technical publications seemed to agree on this point, as did the Paramount-licensed 1986 reference by Shane Johnson, Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise. Since the Enterprise-A had the same external appearance as its refitted predecessor, it was also assumed to be Enterprise-class.

In later years, Star Trek: The Motion Picture designer Andrew Probert would reveal that it was his suggestion that the Enterprise of the early Star Trek features might be an Enterprise-class ship. He felt that the ship was sufficiently different from the ship of the original series to warrant a different class designation than Constitution.

In 1991, the proverbial keepers of the Star Trek technical torch, Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda, published the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual. Many fans gave more credence to this book than to previous Star Trek technical publications, since its authors were actual technical advisors for Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, the Enterprise-A was referred to as a Constitution-class starship. By extension it could be inferred that the Enterprise NCC-1701 was also a Constitution-class starship both before and following the refit seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Licensed Star Trek merchandise produced after the publication of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual supported the Constitution-class designation for both the refitted NCC-1701 and the Enterprise-A. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country finally offered undeniable "proof" that the post-refit NCC-1701 and Enterprise-A were both Constitution-class starships.

Image 1 Scotty studies a schematic of the Enterprise, presumably the NCC-1701-A.

Image 2 An enlarged version of Image 1 illustrates that the "STARSHIP USS ENTERPRISE" is a "CONSTITUTION CLASS STARSHIP."
In 2000 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was released in a widescreen edition on DVD. Star Trek fans finally had access to the movie in its highest-quality form since the film's theatrical release in 1982. It was during a 2001 viewing of the DVD that this author discovered an interesting visual detail that might cast some doubt on the class designation of the refitted NCC-1701 and NCC-1701-A. The images below are taken from a 2004 viewing of the 2002 Director's Edition DVD, because of its higher resolution compared to the 2000 release.

Image 3 Admiral Kirk exits the bridge simulator used during Lieutenant Saavik's Kobayashi Maru test.

Images 4, 5 These enlarged and color-enhanced versions of the left door in Image 3 illustrate the name of the bridge simulator: "MARK IV SIMULATOR - ENTERPRISE CLASS." Although the last line is not clear on the DVD, it was undoubtedly clear in the much higher-resolution theatrical release of the film.
In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the bridge simulator room was designed to simulate the bridge of the USS Enterprise during Lieutenant Saavik's Kobayashi Maru test. The fact that this "Mark IV simulator" is labeled "Enterprise class" would seem to suggest that the simulator is used to represent starships of the Enterprise class, and not just the USS Enterprise herself. Since the simulator was used to represent the USS Enterprise during Saavik's test, it might follow that the USS Enterprise is in fact an Enterprise-class starship.

What is the class designation of the refitted USS Enterprise NCC-1701 and the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A? Is it Constitution, as suggested in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, or is it Enterprise, as suggested in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? The answer may lie in which director you prefer: Nicholas Meyer... or Nicholas Meyer!

The debate continues...


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