The original design for the U.S.S. Enterprise was created by the great Matt Jefferies, who worked tirelessly to create something futuristic, simple, elegant, and practical to be built and filmed. Jefferies created many designs, each building off the innovations from the last.
“I finally came up with something I thought had possibilities,” Jefferies said, which is recorded in the new book from Hero Collector, “Star Trek – The Original Series: A Celebration.” Jefferies died in 2003.
“My thinking was, because of the ship’s speed, there had to be terrifically powerful engines,” Jefferies said. “They might be dangerous as all get-out to be around, so maybe we better put them somewhere, which is also make them what, in aviation circles, we call the QCU — a Quick Change Unit — where you could easily take one off and put another on.”
“Then for the hull, I didn’t want a saucer because of the term ‘flying saucer,’” said Jefferies. “The best pressure vessel, of course, is a ball. So I started playing with that. But the bulk got in the way, and the ball just didn’t work. I flattened it out, and I guess we wound up with a saucer!”
Matt Jefferies Design
In the end, Jefferies’ Enterprise became one of the most and memorable creations of science fiction. His work on the Enterprise — just its exterior — would influence design both in science fiction and in real life. The plan was based on what Jefferies thought would be the practical challenges of space.
His basic design, with the two nacelles and the saucer, would last for all three seasons of “The Original Series,” “The Animated Series,” and for the six Trek films featuring the TOS cast. Even the modified versions of this basic design — the Grissom, the Excelsior, and the Reliant — still used this idea of the round saucer and the nacelles jutting out from the rear.
Thanks to these successes, a series of Roddenberry Rules were developed, which guided future Trek designers as they went forward. According to Ex Astris Scientia, these rules were told to designer Andrew Probert from the creator himself, Gene Roddenberry.
Probert worked for Roddenberry on the Trek films and returned in the mid-1980s. Probert was responsible for creating the beautiful U.S.S. Enterprise-D, with input from Roddenberry. For years, this new design was the standard for Trek ships, which all others emulated.
“This ship threw out the entire playbook to that point of Trek design, abandoning the typical hard lines and angles for smooth, flowing lines,” wrote Darby Harn for CBR.com. “The swan shape of the Enterprise-D proved iconic and instantly set the ship and the series apart from the original.”
Even though the Enterprise-D was different from the original Enterprise, it kept those same ideas of a round saucer and two nacelles.
The Tip of the Spear
Perhaps it was due to the success of Probert’s Enterprise-D that things had to change. Fans knew all about Picard’s ship from seven years of “The Next Generation.” When that change happened, it was in the form of the Enterprise-E and the Voyager.
Rick Sternbach, who served the franchise as a senior illustrator, designer, scenic artist, or technical advisor, created the design for the Voyager for executive producer Jeri Taylor. She asked Sternbach to create a new ship for the show, which was “sleeker and smaller than the Enterprise-D,” according to Trek expert and writer Nick Ottens.
Ottens writes that the first designs from Sternbach in 1993 featured a “dart-like primary hull and a flattened, elongated engineering section, sporting swept-back runabout-like warp pylons.”
Eventually, Taylor had Sternbach smooth out the Voyager, but the elongated “saucer” remained. The main hull was no longer round but shaped more like the tip of a spear. While it was a departure from what came before, Sternbach said that he felt like it fit into the pantheon of Trek ships.
“I’ve always believed that our fans expect us to keep true to recognizable styles, within the context of each era,” Sternbach told StarTrek.com in a 2011 interview. “Voyager was described as a smaller ship than the Enterprise-D, with a smaller crew, and that drove the way it was designed. Windows would appear larger in proportion.”
Meanwhile, designer John Eaves was hard at work creating a successor for Probert’s Enterprise. This was for the 1998 film “Star Trek: First Contact,” which would be the first time audiences would see the new Enterprise-E.
In a presentation for the students and staff at Glendale Community College in 2003, Eaves explained that “the balance didn’t work” on the Enterprise-D and that it had “very short engines.”
“I thought if I ever did the Enterprise, I’d balance it more, so, from a photographic point of view, you could film it from more angles,” Eaves said in his lecture. On his website, Eaves noted that he and Sternbach worked side-by-side on many of the blueprints for the E.
Instead of the classic saucer shape, the Voyager and the Enterprise-E were more like spoons.
The New Saucers Are ’Diamonds‘
Since then, the two shows which followed “Voyager,” “Enterprise,” and “Discovery,” both were attempting to make starships that predated Jefferies’ original for TOS. The Cerritos from “Lower Decks” has a wide saucer, like the Enterprise-D.
But, with the arrival of the U.S.S. Protostar, a new look has emerged. The Protostar, which is supposed to be an experimental design, looks to have a diamond-shaped “saucer.” Designed by Eaves, Nuen Studio, and “Prodigy” director Ben Hibon, the new Protostar seems vastly different from the original round saucer and nacelle design.
The main hull’s shape is much like a diamond, which is reminiscent of the Voyager-J, as it was seen in Season 3 of “Star Trek: Discovery.” That version of the Voyager was from the 31st Century. It featured nacelles that were not attached to the ship’s engineering hull. Perhaps the creators of Prodigy are hinting that their show is set close to the 31st Century rather than near the 23rd or 24th.
New Design Set Shows Apart
As Sternbach explained, each of the shows must retain some of the classic design look, which sets “Star Trek” apart. Much like how Probert created his version of the Enterprise to look different from the Jefferies ship, the new designs are meant to tell viewers that they are watching Trek, but it’s something a bit different than they are used to.
Since Jefferies’ circular saucer worked for 20 years and Probert’s oval for 8 years or so, forcing Sternbach and Eaves to move to the design forward with a spear-like shape. Now, Eaves and Hibbon have shaped the spear into a diamond for the Protostar, the next step in the design evolution which fans have watched unfold over 55 years.