Star Trek: Why Was the USS Enterprise Renamed?
In 1987, science fiction fans witnessed the return of Star Trek to their television screens. The setting, the era, the characters, and even the Enterprise were different, but Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) entrenched itself in the canon over the course of seven seasons. While it took time for some fans to acclimate to the changes and differences of this new crew, it was the beginning of a new history that continues to resonate with fans across a variety of mediums including comic books. DC Comics released the first comic adaptation in February 1988, thus marking next year as the 35th anniversary for Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D in comic books.
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Cover artist Bill Sienkiewicz and penciller Pablo Marcos were the first creative team to officially translate the new Enterprise to the page. Fans already knew the classic Enterprise and its famous registry number NCC-1701, but the enormous, sleeker Galaxy-Class vessel of TNG boasted NCC-1701-D on its oval-shaped hull. This started to raise a variety of questions. Fans naturally wondered who was responsible for the new registry.
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Star Trek: The Next Generation Inherited the Enterprise
The creators of the original Star Trek series always knew that the Enterprise was as much a character as the crew that helmed her. Originally the starship was going to be named the Yorktown, but Gene Roddenberry, fascinated by the story of the actual Enterprise sailing vessels, decided that he had “…always been proud of that ship and wanted to use the name,” as stated in a 1973 interview. The TOS Enterprise’s NCC-1701 registry stemmed from several sources. NC was one of the international aircraft registration codes assigned to the United States. A second C was added as, at the time, Soviet aircraft used Cs in their designations. Matt Jefferies, who took over ship design when original art director Pato Guzman left, held the belief that a venture into space in this future would be a joint operation by the US and Russia.
So NCC became the Starfleet abbreviation for “Naval Construction Contract,” comparable to United States Navy hull numbers. Jefferies rejected using numbers 3, 6, 8, and 9 as they would too easily confuse visually on screen and decided that the Enterprise would be the first vessel of Starfleet’s 17th designed starship. Hence, 1701. The classic Making of Star Trek book by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, explains that USS was meant to be an abbreviation for United Space Ship and that the Enterprise is a member of the Starship-class, although licensed texts, on-screen graphics, props, and dialogue later retconned the ship to be a Constitution-class vessel.
So, when TNG premiered with its new starship, designers of the Galaxy-class starship Enterprise intended for the new vessel’s registry to be NCC-1701-7, according to one of the original pitch bibles for the series. It was pointed out that, at the conclusion of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the original crew’s new Enterprise had sported the registry NCC-1701-A. The 7 quickly morphed into a G to be consistent with this fact as, at the time, the show was planned on being set in the 25th century, 150 years after the Original Series. Then, a February 1987 revision to the Next Generation Writers’ Manual specified TNG’s Enterprise would be referred to as the NCC-1701-D. After all, the 24th century had been chosen as the setting, 78 years after the original Star Trek.
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The Enterprise’s Registry Number Set the Standard
In the Star Trek Universe, the tradition of carrying on a ship’s legacy by adding a letter to the registry number, until recently, was exclusively linked to the Enterprise. It was mentioned in Terry J. Erdmann’s Star Trek Deep Space Nine Companion that Ron Moore wanted the new Defiant in the series finale of DS9 to be the NCC-74205-A (its predecessor being NX-74205), but the show’s budget constraints didn’t allow a redo of the CGI visual effects shots. However, with the last two seasons of Star Trek: Discovery being set in the 32nd century, it’s quite clear the tradition has canonically grown beyond Enterprises, as that show and its comic book spin-offs have featured the Voyager NCC-74656-J and even Discovery herself sporting NCC-1031-A on her hull.
With seven seasons, one feature film, and well over 80 comic book appearances, the USS Enterprise-D easily beats out the original NCC-1701’s three seasons, the refit’s three films, the NCC-1701-A’s two full films (the cameo at the end of Star Trek IV included), and certainly the B, C, and even the E. The J hasn’t even been seen in a full shot, yet. The Enterrpsie-D, as of this writing, has become the longest running and most-viewed version of ships named Enterprise and even though she was destroyed in 2371, she set a standard and a tradition that writers, artists, and nitpicking fans, would be able to enjoy for generations to come.