The Original Model of the ‘Star Trek’ USS Enterprise Reappears After 50 Years

What a time warp!

The USS Enterprise was designed to look drastically different from anything NASA had built. Photo: Heritage Auctions.

The original model of the USS Enterprise, featured in the opening credits of the first Star Trek television series, has been returned to Rod Roddenberry, son the series’ creator Gene Roddenberry.

Missing since the 1970s when it was loaned to the makers of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the whereabouts of the three-foot-long model of the Federation’s flagship became the subject of conspiracies that ranged from theft to sabotage.

Its sudden reappearance on eBay in November last year—under the title “Rare Custom Star Trek USS Enterprise Spaceship by Richard Datin” with a starting price $1,000—generated considerable attention across the Trekkie universe.

The California-based sellers promptly delisted the item and contacted Heritage Auctions, which specializes in sport, comic book, and film memorabilia (last year it sold a model X-wing fighter for $1.3 million). The individual brought it to the auctioneer for authentication and the company duly contacted Roddenberry Jr. and returned it to him at their Beverly Hills location earlier this month.

Heritage Auctions Executive Vice President Joe Maddalena, left, with Rod Roddenberry Jr, right, by the USS Enterprise.

Heritage Auctions Executive Vice President Joe Maddalena, left, with Rod Roddenberry Jr, right, by the USS Enterprise. Photo: Heritage Auctions.

“After five decades, I’m thrilled that someone happened upon this historic model of the USS Enterprise. I remember how it used to adorn my dad’s desk,” Roddenberry said. “I can’t wait to figure out how we are going to share it with my extended family, Star Trek fans around the world. We look forward to making that announcement.”

Also used in Star Trek’s 1965 pilot episode, “The Cage,” the prop became the guiding prototype for the larger 11-foot-long ship that is now displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. It is Roddenberry Jr.’s hope that the original model will also find its way into a museum.

Star Trek arrived on American television sets during a period of peak interest in space exploration. The show’s creators designed USS Enterprise as a spacecraft that would go far beyond the aesthetics of NASA’s fleet. It needed to be large enough to carry several hundred people, but without flames, fins, or rockets. The ship’s power needed to appear innate.

Overhead image of USS Enterprise.

Overhead image of USS Enterprise. Photo: Heritage Auctions.

As Roddenberry put it, “if you didn’t believe you were in a vehicle traveling through space, a vehicle that made sense, whose layout and design made sense, then you wouldn’t believe in the series.”

Pulling from dozens of design proposals, the settled USS Enterprise was smart union of simple geometric shapes. The prototype was made by Richard Datin, a hand-painted thing of balsa wood and cardboard.

“Once our team of experts concluded it was the real thing, we contacted Rod because we wanted to get the model back to where it belonged,” Heritage Auctions Executive Vice President Joe Maddalena said. “We’re thrilled the Enterprise is finally in dry dock.”

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