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In the latest Star Trek movie (2009) it is shown that the USS Enterprise is being built on the ground. Has any reason or advantage been stated in or out of universe for why they would construct a space going vessel in gravity on a planet, rather than in zero-gee in a space dock?

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Because it looks so awesome when you can look up at it and they make lots of tourist dollars from the view? –  Tango Nov 16 '11 at 22:09
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Because the union contracts have a zero-gee bonus payment - well, if the Federation used money, anyway... –  John C Nov 16 '11 at 23:13
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Have you ever tried to install carpet in zero-g? Honestly. –  Jeff Nov 16 '11 at 23:27
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Because it is a really crappy Star Trek movie! A fun, enjoyable Sci-fi movie. But its not Star Trek! –  geoffc Nov 16 '11 at 23:40
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"Hey guys, let's power up the Matter/Antimatter reactor for a bit and see if it works." Final words spoken before a construction site accident creates a 20 km wide crater where Riverside, Iowa used to reside. –  erdiede Nov 17 '11 at 5:37

5 Answers 5

up vote 28 down vote accepted

In this interview, co-writer Roberto Orci answers the question about building a starship on Earth:

TrekMovie.com: So what is your guys logic for setting [the construction of the USS Enterprise] on land?

Roberto Orci: Besides the thematic stuff we discussed, which is to connect it to today and make it clear. Firstly, there is the notion that there is precedent in the novels, etc that components of the ship can be built on Earth and assembled here or there. And the second thing is that the Enterprise is not some flimsy yacht that has to be delicately treated and assembled. The idea that things have to be assembled in space has normally been associated with things that don’t have to be in any kind of pressure situation and don’t ever have to ever enter a gravity well. That is not the case with the Enterprise. The Enterprise actually has to sustain warp, which we know is not actually moving but more a warping of space around it. And we know that its decks essentially simulate Earth gravity and so its not the kind of gravity created by centrifugal force, it is not artificially created by spinning it. It is created by an artificial field and so it is very natural, instead of having to create a fake field in which you are going to have to calibrate everything, to just do it in the exact gravity well in which you are going to be simulating. And the final thing, in order to properly balance warp nacelles, they must be created in a gravity well.

They also point out that it was never established in Canon where the original Enterprise was built, and that its dedication plaque says "San Francisco, CA".

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The only thing not addressed there, and I'd put it on the filmmakers, not on @Plutor, is the energy needed to launch an entire starship from surface and into space, but I guess they'd need that energy, still, to move all the components into space. Still, I don't think that was the intent with the original series, from materials I read in the 1970s. (See my comments on another answer.) In other words, I think there was some retconning going on. –  Tango Nov 17 '11 at 15:50
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@TangoOversway Duh, they'd use a big transporter. (Yes, I'm kidding) –  Plutor Nov 17 '11 at 16:07
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I thought the dedication plaque says San Francisco Fleet Yards, which is in orbit... en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/San_Francisco_Fleet_Yards –  dkuntz2 Nov 18 '11 at 6:54
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@DKuntz2 The 1701 and the first plaque on the 1701-A say "San Francisco, Calif". A second plaque on the 1701-A says "San Francisco Fleet Yards, Earth". en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Enterprise_dedication_plaque (but no info there about when the switch happened.) –  Plutor Nov 18 '11 at 14:56
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@BBlake: That makes a lot of sense IMO. Since zero-G construction (or zero-G repair) is actually quite difficult, and presumably it takes a fair bit of construction before you can turn on the gravity generators. Not to mention, building the ship on Earth means you don't have the vacuum of space to contend with. In other words, it's just safer and easier to construct the ship on Earth. –  Lèse majesté Nov 21 '11 at 4:58

I don't have a source at the moment, but please bear with me.

That was J.J. Abrams' call. First off, he wanted to show the Enterprise being built. The idea of a ship built in space meant it was fragile, could not withstand the gravity and atmospheric entry/exit. On the other hand, a ship built on Earth means it's tough, it can withstand atmospheric entry and exit and by extension a lot of abuse.

He really just wanted to add the gritty/tough aspect, even if that meant scrapping the classic "Enterprise in spacedock" shots.

More from Wikipedia:

The filmmakers sought inspiration from novels [...] One idea that was justified through information from the novels was having the Enterprise built on Earth, which was inspired by a piece of fan art of the Enterprise being built in a ship yard. Orci had sent the fan art to Abrams to show how realistic the film could be. Orci explained parts of the ship would have to be constructed on Earth because of the artificial gravity employed on the ship and its requirement for sustaining warp speed, and therefore the calibration of the ship's machinery would be best done in the exact gravity well which is to be simulated.

Another interesting source says that it was just so Kirk could see it from the ground, riding a motorcycle.

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The idea of a ship built in space meant it was fragile, could not withstand the gravity and atmospheric entry/exit. How's that? I'd guess it's easier to assemble such a heavy thing in space...but that doesn't mean it's going to be fragile, at least for me. Maybe the overall opinion is different on that. –  Bobby Jan 7 '12 at 15:06
    
@Bobby That was really J.J.'s excuse, not mine. You'll have to take it up with him :) –  MPelletier Jan 7 '12 at 21:18

I cannot cite any sources, canon or otherwise, but it stands to reason that in order to produce starships in space you'd need to have a space-based supply chain. Perhaps in the "new" universe such infrastructure does not yet exist in Kirk's time. (Did TOS have space-based dockyards, ones capable of construction?)

If the materials used in the construction of a starship are all taken from Earth (and assumedly starships are capable of atmospheric operation), then why transport them into space when you can construct the vessel on the ground and let it power itself into orbit?

Further, in keeping with the naval analogies, ships are built in a drydock until they are capable of floating on their own, at which point they're launched and the rest of the components are installed. When it comes to starships, perhaps the superstructure and core components are competed in drydock (i.e. Earth) to the point where the vessel is capable of getting into orbit, after which the final details are completed, such as crew accommodations, paint jobs, specialized systems, etc.

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I remember reading notes, during the 1970s, from, I think, Stephen E. Whitfield's "The Making of Star Trek." The original Enterprise was never intended to be operated in an atmosphere or to land because it couldn't take off. Also, even in TOS, the saucer was designed to detach and possibly land. (That's referenced in "The Apple.") If you look at the underside of the saucer section, there's indications of two long areas, on each side, that might have been landing gear, but it could not take off. (David Gerrold also referenced saucer sep for the 1701 in a column in "Starlog" magazine.) –  Tango Nov 17 '11 at 7:50
    
in TOS I think we see some occasions of ships in spacedock, but most of the series takes place away from the solar system (or in fact federation space). @TangoOversway the saucer is designed to land as it's designed as a lifeboat. I don't think it's capable of taking off again though (at least under its own power) when used in that capacity. –  jwenting Nov 17 '11 at 7:55
    
Interesting, I did not know that. I thought the first mention of saucer separation was Encounter at Farpoint. I really need to watch TOS... –  Chad Levy Nov 17 '11 at 8:03
    
@Paperjam: I think it's the only time in TOS that saucer sep is mentioned. (Spoilers ahead!)...There's a tractor beam on the Enterprise pulling it toward the planet, where Kirk is. Kirk tells Scotty that if he has to, separate the saucer and escape that way. It's a passing one liner. –  Tango Nov 17 '11 at 15:48
    
@Tango: The actual line was "Discard the warp drive nacelles if you have to and crack out of there with the main section but get that ship out of there." The "main section" could be just the primary hull, or it could be the primary and secondary hulls together. –  Keith Thompson Nov 27 '13 at 16:52

I consider this similar to the question "why aren't ships built on the ocean?". When you think of it that way, the answer is simple; the simplest, and in fact the only really feasible, method to construct a sound hull is to do so out of the water. Then you put the hull in the water, where you outfit it.

Similarly, despite the mass of a starship like Enterprise, there is logic in building the basic frame in an environment where heat from welding will conduct away in the air, and the hull can be tested for soundness before it HAS to be sound or people die.

As to how they get it into space, both the 2009 movie and earlier movies/shows illustrate that humans have developed some form of thrust-less propulsion (or at least propulsion not dependent on moving large amounts of air or hot gases in the opposite direction). The U.S.S. Voyager was landing-capable, despite the lack of any sort of lift surface. Reactionary thrusters would be useless in-atmosphere, so there has to be some sort of gravity-modification inherent in the drive system. Similarly, in an episode where Voyager travels back in time to 21st-century Earth, Voyager unintentionally dips into Earth's atmosphere and is able to climb back out even though her hull isn't much of a lifting-body. So, it stands to reason that even if the Enterprise didn't have such drive capability built in, the technology existed, and could be used in a space-elevator fashion to bring Enterprise up from the earthbound yards up to the spaceyards.

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The Goal of the inertal dampeners is to reduce the amount of violent reaction felt by the crew during harsh manuvers. The other use is to reduce the mass of the vessel and working with antigrav devices (See "Enterprise" where Archer is playing with a model and his father gives him the antigrav "motor" to complete the model.) By reducing the mass of an object and with the proper lifting device, you could move an aircraft carrier into orbit. Look at how everday people are able to send camerasa and models into the upper atmosphere with a weather balloon. Just think of the antigrav device as a sophisticated balloon.

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