With the possible exception of Star Wars, no other popular-culture franchise has produced as iconic a selection of fictional spacecraft as Star Trek. Today the Enterprise is a household name, a ship that is arguably the face of science-fiction and one that even those who despise sci-fi will grudgingly admit to recognizing.
But the Enterprise is not alone: for multiple generations of fans names like Voyager, Defiant and Deep Space 9, are synonymous with the ideals of honor, integrity and courage, and the promise of a better world.
But how did these iconic ships come to be and why do they look the way they do? Here we take a deep dive into the stories behind their creation, to reveal the thinking behind their design, the influences that shaped them, and how close iconic favourites came to being completely different.
Time to boldly go (sorry, had to do it) behind the scenes and discover the design secrets behind 10 of Star Trek’s most iconic spacecraft.
Sadly some iconic spacecraft, like the Borg Cube and species 8472 Bio-ship, did not make the list, not because they aren’t iconic, but because sufficiently in-depth information was unavailable.
Though the Vulcans are one of Star Trek’s most significant races, before Star Trek: Enterprise they had precious few ship designs to their name. The Suurok-class Sh’Raan, the first appearance of a major Vulcan ship in the franchise, thus presented a daunting challenge for designer Doug Drexler.
Drexler’s primary goal was for the spacecraft to pass the ‘squint-test,’ that is, be instantly recognisable even when tiny on screen. Recalling that the Vulcan ships in The Next Generation episode Unification II sported a rough ring-like shape, Drexler felt that this merited reviving the ‘ring-ship’ concept put forward for the original Enterprise.
Drexler then modified the ‘ring-ship’ – twin rings around a long, narrow core – to be more Vulcan by introducing curves and peaks inspired by the Vulcan temple and clothing seen in Star Trek III. Blending this with the reddish colouration of the T’Plana-Hath – the Vulcan craft that appears in First contact – Drexler arrived at the Sh’Raan’s sleek design.
The finishing touch was added when Drexler and the producers decided that the craft should be supported by, rather than hanging from, its central spar, a move Drexler felt defied convention and made “the Vulcans look like they control powers beyond Human ken.” With this decision the external engines being experimented with were dropped and the design approved.