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In one of the questions, I have noticed that Enterprise (NX-01) requires a crew of 100 people in order for the ship to operate.

We know that runabouts and ships like the Defiant can be maintained by much smaller crew, however, for the question to make sense, I would like to compare ships similar (more or less) in size and design, so I would like to limit it to starships named Enterprise.

Therefore, which Enterprise can be maintained by the smallest skeleton crew?

Canon and on-screen sources are preferred, however, if no information about a ship can be found, I believe technical manuals and other related works should be allowed as well.

To clarify:

A skeleton crew featured a minimal number of crewmen required for starship or space station operations, sometimes fewer. Skeleton crews were often formed during emergencies.

As for the questions for how long should a starship be maintained, let's agree on an emergency situation.

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    Not many in The Search For Spock although they jerry-rigged a lot of stuff and if that episode of TNG with Beverly Crusher in the warp bubble is anything to go by - just one person and the computer seems enough. – Jon Clements Apr 4 '18 at 9:44
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    The Enterprise D comes to mind since there was at least one episode where it was being operated by two people, and I think there was something in the Technical Manual about it being highly automated. – Z. Cochrane Apr 4 '18 at 11:14
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    @JonClements CRUSHER: "The two of us roaming about the galaxy in the flagship of the Federation. No crew at all." PICARD: " We've never needed a crew before." :D – Z. Cochrane Apr 4 '18 at 11:15
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    "I would like to compare ships similar (more or less) in size and design, so I would like to limit it to starships named Enterprise." You do know there're huge differences in size and crew complements between the NX, Constitution, Ambassador, Galaxy, and Sovereign classes? – HorusKol Apr 4 '18 at 15:18
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    @zabeus Crusher was trapped in a warp bubble universe formed by her mind... Nothing can be treated as "real" in that episode. – HorusKol Apr 4 '18 at 15:20
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Operated? Zero, Two, or Six... depending on your point of view.

In TNG1x15: "11001001", the Enterprise D's initial departure from Starbase 74 was performed with no active crew aboard, using entirely automated procedures - including the ability to specify where they wanted the ship to go before it exploded. This process was hijacked by the Bynars, but it was clearly something the ship was capable of doing without any outside hijinks.

For the bulk of the episode, the ship is travelling at (presumably high) warp with zero active crew - Picard and Riker were in the holodeck, and the Bynars were (likely) unconscious.

At the end, the Enterprise returns from Bynaus with a crew of two - Riker and Picard. There were four Bynars onboard, but there is no conclusive evidence either way for them providing any assistance on the return voyage.

Alternatively, one...

If you don't care for the supposition that the ship can operate itself for a period of time, then the answer is plausibly one. In TNG3x04: "Brothers", Data commandeers the ship all by himself. The rest of the crew was present, but they were actively working against the rogue android.

However, Data is a singularly unique example of somebody with abilities beyond any human being. Other than Data, and if "zero" is unacceptable, I think the lowest number for normal people is "two".

Maintained?

If you're including repairs, that would probably require a lot more, depending on how much time you're talking about. There are instances, scattered across the series, where tasks in engineering take two people at physically separated consoles. If there's any chance of needing to do more than one simultaneously, you'd need more people.

  • I mean, the question isn't about the size of the crew, it's which class of ship has the smallest minimum crew size. Are you saying they're all the same, or are you saying Enterprise-D has the smallest at 0? – KutuluMike Apr 4 '18 at 22:36
  • If you don't like the Bynars as a source of canon (for whatever reason), "Brothers" also provides an excellent example of the Enterprise-D being piloted by a crew of one (yes, there were others aboard, no they don't count because they were actively trying to stop the ship). – Kevin Apr 5 '18 at 4:37
  • @Kevin Good call. I added it. – T.J.L. Apr 5 '18 at 12:56
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In "In a Mirror Darkly, Pt II" (ST:ENT S4E19) the USS Defiant, a Constitution-class vessel just like the Enterprise, is operated with a crew of fourty-seven.

There were several situations with even fewer crew members on board, but in those cases one could barely call it 'operating' the vessel insofar as complex situations such as battle would have been impossible to survive. Yet, taken these situations into account as well, one crew member is enough for the Enterprise (NX-01), as shown in "Singularity" (ST: ENT, S2E09), in which T'Pol is the sole conscious member of the crew.

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In an emergency situation, assuming someone has control and not everything turned over to the computer? One. T'Pol operated the NX-01 by herself when everyone else was unconscious. At the other end of the tech timeline, and although it wasn't a ship named Enterprise specifically, Seven operated Voyager for an extended time when the rest of the crew had to be placed in stasis, and the Doctor operated the ship for a period when the crew had been abducted (counting him as separate from the computer).

In between, Picard and Riker had no difficulty returning the 1701-D to dock after the Bynars stole the ship with them aboard and after they regained control. Kirk was able to pilot the Constellation by himself when the rest of the boarding party returned to the Enterprise.

The evidence indicates there's no particular difficulty in doing so, for brief periods. Over extended periods, it would obviously become increasingly harder, and for complex situation such as combat, incredibly difficult to impossible.

Note that if you look at modern, ocean-going ships, it's much the same. As long as everything is working, one person can command some of the largest ships in the world from the bridge, having control of the helm and engines and having computer navigation equipment, radar, and communications right there. Theoretically, if everything is working and no critical maintenance issues came up, one person could sail a modern automated ship around the world.

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