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In the DS9 Episode "Trials and Tribble-ations", Sisko is having a conversation with two members of Temporal Investigations. The conversation goes like this:

DULMUR: Be specific, Captain. Which Enterprise? There've been five.

LUCSLY: Six.

SISKO: This was the first Enterprise. Constitution class.

DULMUR: His ship.

LUCSLY: James T Kirk.

SISKO: The one and only.

But according to Star Trek canon, the first Enterprise was commanded by Jonathan Archer, as shown in the prequel show Star Trek: Enterprise, not by James T. Kirk.

Most likely, this is just one of those mishaps caused by having a prequel come out after the original show was released, but has any writer or cast member ever tried to explain or justify this line?

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There are several possibilities here.

The first one is the one you have already suggested yourself, i.e. that the Star Trek: Enterprise series was itself still in the future, so Archer's Enterprise was still non-existent in the series universe.

But the line can have an alternative reading, as "the first Constitution class Enterprise"; Archer's Enterprise (NX-01) was not a Constitution class ship, but an NX class one, which, additionally, was never in Federation service, according to the episode's entry in Memory Alpha (the Federation itself did not yet exist).

So, if we take it either as "the first Federation Enterprise" or "the first Constitution class Enterprise", the statement would be correct indeed.

Notice also that, before Sisko's answer, the question has already been framed by specific numbers: five, to be immediately corrected as six; Dulmur here is obviously forgetting the latest NCC-1701-E ship (debuted in Star Trek: First Contact film). Five is also the answer given by the computer onboard Enterprise in the TNG episode Relics (SE06E04), as pointed out in the related thread Was NX-01 not a Federation ship?. The computer's answer there, that

There have been five Federation ships with that name

correct at the time, since there was not an E yet, reinforces the interpretation that here we are talking about Federation ships only, which Archer's NX-01 was not.

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    It could easily be Federation Enterprises. They're clearly not counting the nine US Navy Enterprises and probably not the Space Shuttle.
    – Nolimon
    Nov 26 '19 at 19:25
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    @Nolimon nor the 14 Royal Navy Enterprises (why would a unified Earth only reference US history?)
    – Moo
    Nov 27 '19 at 3:33
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    @eagle275 I don’t buy that since throughout TNG and DS9 we have significant historical references, and no mention of a large scale loss of historical record.
    – Moo
    Nov 27 '19 at 10:02
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    @eagle275 For example, in a Wrath of Kahn, Kirks apartment had at least three and possibly more detailed models of sailing ships. Also, La Forge built a detailed model of the HMS Victory. Plus there’s the holodeck recreation of the Bounty in Generations. There’s no indication of any gap in history.
    – Moo
    Nov 27 '19 at 10:11
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    I have a book containing the stories depicted in the original series ... which explains on more than one occasion that many historic records are lost / partially damaged True - on other aspects those records show remarkably precise data. But the one doesn't exclude the other. And regarding time travel - even the time traveler from NX01 says that they don't have clear data regarding historic events
    – eagle275
    Nov 27 '19 at 10:52
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There's a few points to consider

  1. While Archer's Enterprise belonged to a nascent Starfleet, it wasn't part of Federation history, yet. Archer's tenure would see the United Federation of Planets come to fruition. It's likely that, by the time Sisko is being questioned, only Federation history (now some 200 years old) is well known. This is bolstered by the final episode of ENT, where Troi and Riker are reliving the final days of NX-01, but more for how they shaped Archer and his famous speech that was pivotal to starting the Federation.
  2. NCC-1701 became the famous number (so much so that they started adding letters to keep it), not NX-01. As such, when people refer to the Starship Enterprise, they likely think of the famous version, not its lesser historical predecessor. Only Archer himself seems to survive in historical infamy, in that regard.
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  • I disagree re: point 1 for the opposite reason re: Riker! :) Because we (retroactively of course) see Riker looking into the seminal moments of NX Enterprise / Archer history to help him [Riker] make a decision during the events of the TNG Season 7 episode "The Pegausus" which takes place in relatively the same time as the DS9 episode in question. Clearly, the NX era was well known
    – NKCampbell
    Nov 26 '19 at 23:07
  • Can't imagine that the creation of the federation is not well known. Or at least the major details. Most people can name the major details around the creation of their state.
    – Christy
    Nov 27 '19 at 10:06
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Even within the post-Enterprise continuity, the statement is accurate. The ship from ENT was never a Federation vessel - it was a prototype vessel launched by the United Earth government space program, later renamed to Starfleet. Despite the important role in history of the NX-01 vessel, it ultimately had a very short career (5 years or less), ultimately being mothballed in favor of more advanced vessels.

In contrast, the Constitution-class vessels were created in the 2240s, just about the time the United Federation of Planets was coming into its own as a galactic power. Created as a heavy cruiser class just prior to the Federation-Klingon War, the original twelve vessels (including the Enterprise NCC-1701) were at the time the most advanced ships ever built by humanity. The NCC-1701 vessel, in particular, would go on to serve another 40 years... most famously under the command of James T. Kirk. When all is said and done, this specific vessel is probably the most famous one in all of Federation history.

Keeping this in mind, it's easy to see why most people of the 24th Century would think of the NCC-1701 as the "original" Enterprise - it was the first Federation vessel to bear the name, and it's the one that instantly leaps to mind when you hear the name.

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In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Decker shows V'Ger various models, including a couple of unknown spaceship types.

All of these ships were named Enterprise

he says, so clearly the name isn't unique. What is unique in Starfleet is the NCC-1701 registry number, made famous by Kirk and company. To quote Scotty in his Next Generation appearance,

N-C-C-1-7-0-1, no bloody A, B, C or D.

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    I’m not sure this is answering the question since it explicitly talks about “Enterprise” and not the registration numbers.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Nov 26 '19 at 19:10
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    I mentioned that it's clear in Trek's history that yes, there are other ships pre-Kirk named Enterprise. But in post-Kirk era, Enterprise refers to Kirk's captaincy which they've honored by keeping the name and number around.
    – pboss3010
    Nov 26 '19 at 19:23

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