May 19, 2009
The first Starship Enterprise hangs in the National Air and Space Museum’s gift shop. It is 11-feet long.
“But is it 134-inches long or 135-inches long?” Star Trek fans would ask space history curator Margaret Weitekamp. For years, the precise measurement was a raging debate on Trekkie Web forums. The fans needed the exact length of the 11-deck ship so they could be sure their own models were at scale with the original. Finally, Weitekamp broke out the measuring tape.
Matt Jefferies designed the Smithsonian’s Enterprise model on behalf of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry for the failed 1966-1969 television series. Through Star Trek’s various reincarnations for film, television and video games, every Starship Enterprise featured has been some variation on the saucer and cigar shapes of Jefferies’ design. To fans, the original model is considered a “material touchstone of the Trek canon,” Weitekamp says. “It’s a living cultural object.”
The model arrived at the Air and Space Museum in 1974. It came in a box, disassembled and dirty. To the curators, it was nothing more than a prop from a canceled television show that was a nice example of what human space flight might look like. They restored the model and hung it up for display.
As the Trekiverse grew, along with the number of fans, the Smithsonian’s Enterprise became a popular stop in the Air and Space Museum. Weitekamp gets regular complaints from fans and collectors about how the Air and Space Museum displays the the model. They offer money and manpower for what they consider to be a better restoration. She always turns them down. “It’s not broken,” she says.
However, for those that do ask about the model’s length, she has the number cold: 135-inches long.
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