Star Trek broke new ground by having a spaceship without fins and rockets, and by consulting with the RAND Corp. on its design. And the Enterprise is indeed a beauty. But the Federation's coolest starship isn't flawless, by any means. Here are the 10 biggest design flaws in the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Note: This article mostly deals with the original Enterprise, from Star Trek: The Original Series. We do dip into the Enterprise-D, from The Next Generation, a few times. We consulted with a couple of Treksperts just to supplement our Trek knowledge.
In the episode "Balance of Terror," we discover that there's a separate phaser firing room, where the crew sit around waiting for the order to fire phasers to come from the bridge. "Funny, I thought that's what that little red button was for," says Mark A Altman, the writer/producer of Free Enterprise and co-author of the upcoming oral history Star Trek: The Fifty Year Mission. Obviously, having a separate control room for phasers presents some severe problems — what if communication breaks down with the bridge? And indeed, this control room was never seen again.
We get it. It's fun to watch a dozen or so people get tossed around a bridge during a battle sequence — definitely more fun than just seeing a camera shake up and down while all the crew members remain safely strapped into their seats. But seriously, you'd think that after enough concussions caused by people falling out of their chairs, the Enterprise designers would just add some damn restraints. Class action lawsuit, anyone?
Apparently sometime in between now and the 23rd century, engineers forgot how to include fuses in any of their electronics, so that anytime an explosion happens some poor crewmember's console blows up in a magnificent shower of sparks. Some of this might be explained by the power of the weapons in question, but not every case. And if you are dealing with that much extra energy, maybe figure out a place to bleed it off that isn't a red shirt's face?
There's only one way to and from the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise — a single turbo lift. "We saw them trapped on the bridge in "Space Seed," when Khan cuts off their life support," notes Mark Cushman, author of These Are The Voyages, a series of books covering the making of TOS. "For The Next Generation, Gene had his designers establish a second turbolift tube. But, still, what if the elevators stopped working?" asks Cushman.
Especially early on in the series, when they don't seem to have shuttlecraft yet, this is a serious problem. There's only one transporter room, and if you put that out of action, nobody gets on or off the ship. In "The Enemy Within," the transporter conks out, and Sulu and his team are screwed, notes Altman. Also, in "Wink of an Eye," Kirk fiddles with one component on the transporter, and the Enterprise is cut off from the planet's surface. The ship's blueprints actually show more than one transporter room, but on screen there only appears to be one, and it's easy to put out of action.
In the episode "Elaan of Troilus," we learn that you can get access to the ship's dilithium crystals — the Enterprise's main power source — by walking into main engineering and pressing a single button. "Seems [these crystals] would be handled more like we handle our plutonium for nuclear reactors… but more people seem to go in and out of engineering unobstructed than Times Square," says Altman, whom the L.A. Times named "the world's foremost Trekspert."
Say you're having to abandon ship, and you want to blow it up so nobody else can get hold of it. You might not want to give boarding parties any warning that the ship is going to go boom, right? But the Enterprise self-destruct talks reallllly loudly, and it's only in later versions that there's a "mute" button. Of course, this still managed to fool those Klingons in Star Trek III, but as Altman notes, they were sort of the "Three Stooges of Klingons."
This is a big one. In "That Which Survives," we discover you can make the Enterprise explode by screwing around with the bypass valve in the matter-antimatter integrator room, "adjacent to main engineering — which is easy to get in and out of, especially for beautiful women without midriffs," says Altman. And here's one area where the Enterprise-D is definitely not superior: there are at least a half dozen warp core breaches listed on Memory Alpha. So why aren't there better fail-safes in place? The crew was usually left to try to either eject the core, which wasn't a particularly reliable procedure, or to separate the starship. If they managed to do one of those things and prevent a cataclysmic explosion, they would still only be left with impulse and battery power. Surely there must be a better way. (More pleasant, but potentially just as lethal: the Warp Core Breach cocktail.)
Perched audaciously on top of the saucer, the Enterprise bridge seems like it's just daring any passing enemy to slice right through it. (Especially if you go by that shot at the start of "The Cage," the original pilot.) Look, it's a sweet view and all, but surely a viewscreen could provide that in a more secure location. "You'd think they'd want that protected in the center of the saucer rather than somewhere where one phaser blast could take you out," says Altman.
And here's the absolute biggest design flaw — the Enterprise has so many ways to take control. In "Day of the Dove," we learn that all of the ship's main functions can be hijacked from easy-to-access consoles all over the ship. There's the auxillary bridge, which is barely guarded and gives you exactly the same amount of control as the main bridge. (Or the "battle bridge," on TNG.) People also take over the ship with remarkable ease in "I, Mudd," and "By Any Other Name." Even space hippies managed to take over the Enterprise. "And how about that intruder suppression system in "Space Seed"? I'd get my money back on that one too," says Altman.
And yet, it must be acknowledged, the Enterprise is still one of the most distinctive, and awesome, starships ever. As Altman says:
Otherwise, the Enterprise is the absolutely perfect ship with no design flaws whatsoever. it is the most beautiful and effective starship ever built or designed, no bloody A, no bloody B, C or D. Thank you Matt Jeffries, you gave us a gift which we can never repay. Of course, any ship is only as good as its Captain so we're lucky to have Captain Kirk in command. Not since chocolate and peanut butter, James Bond and an Aston-Martin, has there been anything that goes together so well.