The studio model of the Star Trek starship Enterprise is now on exhibit in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. After taking it off exhibit in 2014, assembling a special advisory committee, examining it using x-ray radiography, searching out long-lost photos, and planning the work in great detail, months of hard work culminated in several weeks of painting, detail work, rewiring, and final assembly. In the end, the whole project was a tremendous collaboration.
The Enterprise model, a genuine television star of the 1960s, now rests in the south lobby of Milestones (near the Independence Ave. entrance) in a new, state-of-the-art, climate-controlled case. From the center of the Hall, the restored Enterprise rests with its camera-ready side on full view. Walk around to the back to see the less-decorated port or left side, where the wires bring power to the internal lights and motors. The model’s internal lighting has been replaced with modern LEDs, which will come to life at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm local time each day. An interactive touchscreen attached to the case allows visitors to learn more about the model, Star Trek, and the Museum’s long interest in imagined spaceflight.
The final stages of the conservation treatment came together in the last few months. In April 2016, the Enterprise model, in pieces, was in the large artifact booth in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar. Special Advisory Committee member Gary Kerr was dubbed our “oracle,” double-checking his notes and diagrams before any detail went onto the model. (There are 952 holes in the faux grill inside the starboard nacelle. He counted.) And Bill George and John Goodson, both of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), worked with Kim Smith of Pulse Evolution to carry out the physical detailing. Together, they were consummate professionals, bringing their expertise into an ongoing conversation with the Museum staff. More than once, the whole team stopped work to discuss the choices being made, assuring that everyone agreed before proceeding.
Before this dream team of model painters arrived, the Enterprise model’s body had already been expertly cleaned, reinforced, and repaired by Engen Conservation Chair Malcolm Collum, Dave Wilson, and Sharon Norquest (with a much-appreciated assist by Lauren Horelick). Then the whole model (minus the upper saucer paint, of course, which is original paint from the 1960s) was painted with a base color that had been carefully matched by the Museum’s Dave Wilson to the production base color that had been uncovered in multiple places on the model in sanding tests.
Kim’s first step was mixing the colors that would be used for the weathering, details, and markings. The detail paints were mixed to match the colors that Dave had carefully revealed, and were adjusted and balanced for appropriate contrast and intensity based on comparisons with the historic images.
A full-scale mockup of several of the model’s parts (nacelles and secondary hull) provided a way to test paints, techniques, and finishes before applying any paint to the actual artifact. Some eagle-eyed fans even caught sight of the mockups on the Restoration Shop floor and wondered online whether the Enterprise work was underway. The actual artifact pieces stayed in the paint booth, the large artifact bay, or otherwise out of public view through most of the process.
The masking was an art form itself. Bill, John, and Kim layered up Post-it® notes because the low-tack adhesive would be least likely to affect the base paint. And then they created fine edges using masking tapes, burnished to create a seamless transition between colors. The end result, as you can see in these photos, is beautiful – bringing the model back to what it would have looked like at the end of shooting season two, after the Trouble with Tribbles episode.
On Friday, July 1, the Museum will celebrate the 40th birthday of its building in Washington, DC, and the ceremonial reopening of the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. Come join us for an all-night public party at the Museum:
Two members of the special advisory committee, Mike and Denise Okuda, have graciously agreed to appear as official guests in the overnight events, introducing the midnight showing of Galaxy Quest. Other advisory group members will also be here. And still others will be following along on social media. If you cannot join us in person for the Museum’s 40th birthday party beginning at 8:30 pm on the terrace closest to the National Mall (free and open to the public), tune in to C-SPAN 3 to watch and participate via social media. The Museum will also be webcasting events all night.
Margaret A. Weitekamp contributed the blog and is a curator in the Space History Department.
This post originally appeared on the Smithsonian Nation Air and Space Museum's blog.