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Reading the Memory Alpha entry for NCC-1701-A, it is indicated that the ship was only in service from 2286 to 2293 - all of 7 or 8 years depending on exact dates - at which point it was decommissioned.

As far as I know, it is generally accepted that 1701-A was actually the USS Yorktown, rechristened the Enterprise after the events of ST:IV to reward Kirk for saving Earth. Assuming that is the case, the physical ship was in service for at least a couple years probably before those events. (It couldn't have been much longer than that, as the Constitution refit series began around 2270).

So given those numbers, NCC-1701-A was at most around 25 - 30 years old, and probably much newer (maybe around 10 or so, given that Yorktown seemed to be in shakedown in the beginning of ST:IV).

So I was wondering why it was scheduled to be decommissioned by the time of the events of ST:VI in 2293? Given that - short of being destroyed - many ships in Starfleet were in service for many many decades, why was 1701-A scheduled to be decommissioned after only 1-3 decades? This seems like a dreadful waste of resources to mothball a ship at such a young age, especially given that we see so many designs from the same era still in service in the TNG/DS9 era (though I suppose those may not be surviving ships, but new[er] construction/updated versions of the same space-frames).

Possibly, I was thinking that 1701-A was not completely mothballed, but just rechristened again - for whatever reason. Especially given the fact that 1701-B was commissioned the very same year, in 2293.

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    It was the only way Star Fleet could get Kirk to retire. – Xantec May 19 '14 at 21:47
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    In the light of the captains log at the end wouldn't it be possible that this im simply a misundestanding and the ST writers misapplied the term "decommissioned" to the crew instead to the ship (after all they were only a temporary crew assembled for the duration of a diplomatic mission) ? – Eike Pierstorff May 20 '14 at 5:25
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    "only 1-3 decades" o.O And I haven't seen any Constitution class ships in the TNG/DS9 era AFAICR – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 23 '15 at 23:19
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    @Lèsemajesté Your comment/question assumes a flagship is physically different from other vessels (a common but erroneous sci-fi trope). IRL, a flagship is the vessel an admiral is "flying his flag". In a real military, the Enterprise was not a flagship except when Kirk was an admiral. Flagships tend to be state-of-the-art with better facilities, but not because they "are a flagship" (though purpose-built command vessels do exist). Instead, Admirals pick the best vessel to do their job from, which often turns out to be the latest-and-greatest. – T.J.L. Sep 10 '15 at 12:49
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    Note also that an admiral aboard a flagship is a passenger as far as the direct operation of the vessel is concerned. The admiral commands the fleet, which includes the vessel, but not the ship itself. The Admiral would decide objectives for the whole formation, but each ship (including his flagship) would have it's own captain, and each of those captains would determine how to execute his assigned objectives. (IRL calling the Enterprise a flagship is a stretch - it didn't lead a fleet, there usually wasn't an admiral aboard, and when there was, he acted as de facto captain, not an admiral.) – T.J.L. Sep 10 '15 at 12:55

11 Answers 11

18

Two big factors in the decision to decommission 1701-A would probably stem from the damage suffered during the battle over Khitomer and the age of the vessel.

In The Search for Spock the original Enterprise was to be decommissioned after "20 years of service"1. At this time the Enterprise had sustained considerable damage from the battle with Khan in the Mutara nebula, which more than likely played a large role in that determination.

SCOTT: With all appreciation, sir, I'd prefer to supervise the refit of Enterprise.
MORROW: I'm afraid that won't be necessary.
SCOTT: But, sir...
MORROW: I'm sorry, Mister Scott, but there will be no refit.
KIRK: Admiral, I don't understand. The Enterprise is not...
MORROW: Jim, the Enterprise is twenty years old. We feel her day is over.

And later:

SULU: Admiral, what's going to happen to the Enterprise?
KIRK: She's to be decommissioned.
CHEKOV: Will we get another ship?

At this time the refit Enterprise was only about 10 years old, with The Motion Picture taking place in the mid-2270s and The Search for Spock occurring in 2285. This leads one to believe that, despite a substantial overhaul, the age of the underlying space-frame may also be a determining factor on when to retire a ship.

Now lets consider the USS Yorktown. Assuming that the USS Yorktown referenced in The Voyage Home is the same one that was rebranded as 1701-A it is likely that the ship was on its original post-refit shakedown cruise when it was disabled by the probe. This would account for why so many systems were still inoperable at the start of The Final Frontier, as secondary systems like fully functional turbolifts and transporters wouldn't be needed for a cruise around the block. If we assume that the original vessel was built around the same time as the Enterprise, it would still have a space-frame pushing on 20+ years by that time.

Moving on to the The Undiscovered Country, Kirk and team were three months from retirement when the movie started. The ship itself was 7-8 years into its refit life, nearly as long as 1701 was when it was to be decommissioned. It took heavy damage from Chang's ship during the fight, with substantial destruction being wrought upon the saucer section. One shot even fully penetrated the saucer from bottom to top.

So we can then imagine the discussion that might have happened when the fleet admirals reviewed the ship upon Kirk's return:

Kirk has wrecked another ship.
What do we do with it?
Fleet Command is trying to get Kirk to retire. Considering the damage and age of the vessel let's decommission his ship as well, to hurry him along.

1: Although Admiral Morrow says the Enterprise is 20 years old, it had to have been older, since Kirk's five year mission started in 2265. If you add on Pike's stint of command on the Enterprise, possibly with another 5 year mission, then the space-frame was at least 25 years old, likely older. While there are no on screen sources nailing down a construction date, several "official" off screen sources list the date of launch being 2245, which would make the Enterprise 40 years old at the start of The Search for Spock. It should be safe to assume that the USS Yorktown would have a comparable launch date.

  • As noted on another A, in ST:III, 1701 actually was about 40 years old, (10 of which was the refit). I would say that while in spirit it may have been 40, the clock essentially started over after the refit - physically - because it was essentially completely new construction (only a tiny bit of the original structure remained). I forgot about the ST:II damage, but that was before A anyway. Also forgot Yorktown had been on shakedown, which means A was actually probably around 10-15 years old when decommissioned. – eidylon May 20 '14 at 16:27
  • Oh yea, I forgot to add my note on the age. – Xantec May 20 '14 at 16:38
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    You forgot Captain April. Also, post-refit Yorktown would've been in the same boat as 1701, with essentially an all-new space-frame, post-refit. – eidylon May 20 '14 at 16:50
  • @eidylon That was why I included "likely older". See this question & answer and this comment regarding the space-frame. – Xantec May 20 '14 at 16:54
  • I've read before (tho can't find source right now) that pretty much the only thing kept from the original was the the spinal structure of the dorsal pylon. Nacelles were all new, as were pylons, saucer has a completely different frame and shape (other than "round"). Even engineering hull would be mostly new construction, based solely on the changes to the shuttle bay, cargo bays, engineering and addition of arboretum. Decks were different heights, interior spaces completely different. In short, very, very little of the original spaceframe survived the refit. Most of the ship was brand new. – eidylon May 20 '14 at 17:08
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I think the current answers miss a major point of Star Trek VI: that it was supposed to be the end of a Cold War, and the conference that is the central plot of the movie is supposed to be an analog of the START treaty, where the two sides negotiate disarming in a coordinated fashion. Spock even says at the beginning that the conference is about this dismantling of space stations along the neutral zone. Limits on warship fleets could easily have been part of the discussion as well.

In this case the Enterprise-A is like one of the B-52s in this picture:

B-52s

Still useful, but older technology, and with a treaty limit on number of warships in place, the Federation was going to start focusing on the Excelsior class and newer, rather than waste roster space on technology that was being replaced. It's the same reason the US doesn't fly any B-52 other than the B-52H any more, even if there was lots of life left in the others. Scrapping/destroying/making into museum pieces was a better choice than keeping them, because it meant that the Russians did the same with many of theirs.

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    Hmm, those are some good points there. – eidylon Mar 5 '15 at 0:10
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    A couple inaccuracies - the pictured B-52s are older models too old to fly, or newer models too broken or unneeded but may be used for spare parts - the USAF cut up all the G-models. In addition, they were too old and outdated, not "a lot of life left in them" – The Fallen Mar 5 '15 at 0:31
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    Thank you for the edit SSumner, it looks much better with the inserted picture. I do have to disagree with your comment about the "too old to fly" nature of the earlier B52s. These are pictures of B52Gs that were deliberately destroyed because of the START treaty and are left in such condition that Russian spy satellites can verify their unavailability. The oldest B52G was only 4 years older than the youngest B52H. Without START, they'd undoubtedly still be in service, as no B52 is younger than 52 years old currently. Another 1950s Boeing product, the KC-135, could be in service into the 2040s – Tim Mar 6 '15 at 12:30
  • Good point. In fact, during the Starfleet briefing at the beginning, someone even asked if they were talking about mothballing the fleet. Maybe in the end, numerous ships were indeed mothballed for political reasons. – Omegacron Mar 6 '15 at 17:13
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The Enterprise-A was a refit of an existing Constitution-class ship (Roddenberry's notes describe it as the USS Yorktown) and so was nearing the end of its service life after 30 (ish) years.

Gene Roddenberry, in a nod to his original name choice from 1964, suggested that the Yorktown was renamed USS Enterprise-A at the end of Star Trek IV, explaining why the latter ship seemed to be launched so quickly at the end of the movie. The Next Generation fourth season writer's technical manual also indicated this to be the case. This was further validated when, in the Encyclopedia, Mike Okuda described the Yorktown in 2293 as the second ship to bear this name.

From this Memory Alpha article, and from the Star Trek TNG Writer's Technical Manual, 4th Season, page 6.

The same reasons for its decommissioning apply from those mentioned for the original Enterprise's suggested decommissioning in ST3, where Admiral Morrow notes that the ship is 20 years old. The Yorktown/Ent-A was given a stay of execution in order to be awarded to Kirk.

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    According to the MA for the Constitution Class vessels, the refit ships used only a couple of the very basic structural members from the original Constitution frames, and were beyond that, entirely new ships (which is quiet evident when looking at the internals). (Probably done for reasoning similar to when people rebuild there house but leave one wall from the original house). So you still are left with essentially a brand new ship that is in service for only 20(ish) years. That seems VERY short (barring destruction in the line of duty). – eidylon May 20 '14 at 15:29
  • It was actually Admiral Morrow in Star Trek III, and he rather egregiously cuts at least 10 years off of Enterprise's known life-span by declaring she's only TWENTY years old... – Michael Scott Shappe May 20 '14 at 15:32
  • @selezen - Can you back up the Roddenberry quote? I've seen plenty of mentions of it, but no canon reference... – Valorum May 20 '14 at 15:34
  • Actually, based on the numbers from MA, 1701 was launched in 2245, and the events of ST:III took place in 2285, so the 1701 had actually been in service for 40 years at that point. Although roughly the last 10 of that was essentially a new ship, after being rebuilt from the keel up, so to speak. – eidylon May 20 '14 at 15:51
  • @Richard: I can, or at least there is evidence of the comments made to the TNG production team - find yourself a copy of the TNG season 4 writers bible and look at page 6. – Selezen May 20 '14 at 15:58
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Could be that it had nothing to do with the age of the ship itself. Constitution class ships weren't seen after ST:VI, so maybe Starfleet was pulling the entire class out of service. 1701 was supposedly launched in, what, late 2240s under April? And I don't remember when or if a launch date for the USS Constitution - which the class was named after - was ever made official. That would put that design roughly 50 years or so. Starfleet probably decided to retire the class after they fixed Excelsior and made that class a priority.

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The exact life-cycle of starships is wildly inconsistent throughout the series and the movies. However, that really wasn't the issue.

The issue was that Enterprise 1701-A was full of holes, and that the basic technology which underpinned her entire class had been completely superseded, making it ultimately more sensible to replace her than fix her.

  • According to the MA for the Constitution Class vessels, the refit ships used only a couple of the very basic structural members from the original frames, and were beyond that, entirely new ships (evident when looking at the internals. Granted A did have quite a bit of damage at the end of ST:VI, but even so, given her relatively young age, I'd still think it would've been far more practical to repair than to replace. Most of the systems were actually still quite new, and the majority of the space-frame and structure was still in tact. – eidylon May 20 '14 at 15:33
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    On the one hand, given that the most recent US Navy USS Enterprise CVN-65 was in commission for nearly 40 years (1962-2012), I'd tend to agree with you; on the other hand, CVN-65 never suffered battle damage that left her full of holes :-) – Michael Scott Shappe May 20 '14 at 15:36
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    Also, we don't know the state of her space-frame. We don't really know what was damaged when she was punctured by that torpedo, for example. We only know that she was still considered spaceworthy enough not to need to be towed home. But by the time of ST:TUC, the Excelsior class was in full production and plans may already have been on the boards for the ship that became 1701-B. Ultimately, the reason is: the writers thought it was more dramatic that way. – Michael Scott Shappe May 20 '14 at 15:39
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    My pleasure :-) Some space opera franchises (notably the Honorverse) actually take these sorts of mechanics into account; but Star Trek, really, pretty much just lets the writers get away with whatever seems like a good idea at the time :-) – Michael Scott Shappe May 20 '14 at 16:18
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    I'm not sure the economics of a modern day navy can be applied to Star Trek. After the battle of Wolf 359 the estimate to getting "the fleet" back up to strength was less than a year. And Starfleet seemed to be able to maintain it's strength fairly well despite the huge losses suffered during Deep Space Nine (first against the Klingons and later against the Dominion). – Xantec May 20 '14 at 16:19
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Canon has nothing to say - the ship is anything but a brand new ship built from scratch as a refit build, outside of canon it's kind of a mess but most say its the york though people disagree about the yorks age too. But using the Excelsior-class as an example we can see that it went through several refits over its life and it seems after refits new ships would just be built with the upgrades, I think this lends to the Constitution refit being part of a class production overhaul as well. Why the Enterprise-A was mothballed or whatever, I like to think it was to be made into a meuseum and to get kirk out of the captains chair once and for all (as in truth he would be a nightmare for the higher ups loose in the galaxy).

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I think the Constitution class was outdated so they weren't used for deep space exploration anymore. And for Patrol duty inside of federation Space you don't need many big ships. So a few were decommission and scrapped. But I don't think the enterprise was scrapped. I think they would put her in a museum

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Kirk took over the original Enterprise when he was 30. Got the refit Enterprise at 38. Destoyed the Enterprise at 50. So the original Enterprise was 20 plus the time under Pike and April. So when the damaged Enterprise returns home in Star Trek III, 20 years old could be a slight round up for the Enterprise had major overhaul when Kirk first got her, then major refit at Motion Picture... At Star Trek IV to V was 2 months being refit. This goes to theory that Enterprise A was a renamed ship (aka Yorktown) and not a new build. In Star Trek VI, Kirk and crew are ready to retire...which would suggest Kirk is at least 65 (15 years after Star Trek II). So Enterprise A has been under Kirk's command for nearly 15 years. Original show - Kirk 30 - command 5 years Motion Picture - Enterprise refit takes 2 1/2 years. Kirk now 32 to 33 (depending on date) Wrath of Khan - 17 years later. Kirk turns 50 Search for Spock - Days/weeks later. Enterprise destroyed, Kirk is still 50. Voyage Home - months later (in exile on Vulcan), Kirk is still 50. Gets new Enterprise. Looks like original refit, but sleeker and shinny. The Final Frontier - a couple of months later. Enterprise is refit. Kirk is still 50, maybe just turning 51. Undiscovered Country - Kirk ready to retire, should be about 65 years old, possibly a little older, but will go with 65. So we have now gone 15 years since Wrath of Khan. Enterprise A is 15+ years old. 15 years under Kirk, and if a rename, could be several years older...so Enterprise A is at least 20 years old.

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I think the Enterprise-A might have been rechristened after Kirk and the rest of the senior crew retired/left the ship. It's possible that if she was the USS Yorktown and renamed USS Enterprise, Starfleet might have just reverted the name back to Yorktown when the Enterprise-B was commissioned. Kinda like the name "Enterprise" was honorary while she was under the command of Kirk. Just my interpretation of all the information.

  • Do you have evidence to support this interpretation? – T.J.L. Feb 12 at 14:05
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With all respect to the Great Bird of the Galaxy, his roots in the Army Air Force and not the Navy show in his suggestion that the Enterprise-A was EVER the USS Yorktown... (At least the original Constitution class ship of that name)

Any sailor will tell you it is very bad luck to take the name away from a ship.Further there IS a USS Yorktown mentioned in Star Trek IV. Roddenberry is suggesting that this damaged ship was towed back, repaired, and renamed while her senior officers were all removed for no real cause simply so they could give Kirk a ship he'd be comfortable with. Sure that Kirk is a hero but frankly if you are in charge of Star Fleet, taking another Captain's command is not the best way to maintain morale in a fleet that is taking a few hits right now. (Loss of USS Reliant and USS Grissom. Difficulties with the NX-2000. Starship Enterprise destroyed... Saratoga and Yorktown neutralized and heading for repairs.) And frankly that is a good way to make other Captains a bit leery of Kirk. (You know Kirk always gets his ship, no matter what it costs the current Captain Three times running now!)

I suppose that it could be that the Yorktown mentioned at the start of ST:TVH is the original Yorktown about to be retired anyway and her new construction successor was renamed Enterprise as she was being completed just as several Essex class carriers in WW2 were renamed to honor lost predecessors but that is the only way that ship was ever Yorktown.

As for her service period, Yes, eight years is short life and the design surely ought to have as much use as Miranda class ships that we see in service for another 90 years but not only is Enterprise damaged, but she and her kin are a symbolic sacrifice. They are the symbol of Starfleet's stand against the Klingons for five decades. Starfleet wants new Excelsior and Constellation class ships and the council wants to capitalize on the thaw in Klingon/Federation relations. The Constitution class are the sacrificial lamb. It is not even until the end of the film that Star Fleet decides to decommission Enterprise ahead of schedule (And at the time Kirk in his Log says the ship will become the care of a new crew, expecting that Enterprise will be repaired and returned to service) But yes, Age is not a factor here. Miranda, Excelsior, and Constellation classes all serve another 8 or 9 DECADES. Politics and possibly economics doomed Enterprise-A and her sisters.

  • A lot of very excellent points there! – eidylon Oct 1 '15 at 3:58
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    "Any sailor will tell you it is very bad luck to take the name away from a ship." - and yet, in real life, ships seem to get renamed all the time (in particular when they're sold). Also, I'd expect an organisation like Starfleet (and its employees!) to follow more rational criteria than what course of action will be bad luck. The point about "fleet that is taking a few hits right now" might be valid, but it depends a lot on how large Starfleet actually is, which has been depicted quite inconsistently. – O. R. Mapper Oct 16 '15 at 17:58
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    Perhaps Gene Roddenberry envisioned that, in the future, people wouldn't make choices based on absurd superstitions any more. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 23 '15 at 19:11
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    "Any sailor will tell you it is very bad luck to take the name away from a ship." - That would be news to the crews who served on the 50 Lend-Lease destroyers that went from the US to the UK and allies in 1940 (all renamed), USS Scourge, CSS Virginia, USS Abraham, USS General Bragg, USS Sumter, CSS Atlanta, CSS Advance (and then USS Frolic), INS Viraat, and so on and so forth. – Keith Morrison Dec 28 '17 at 22:08
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At the end of The Undiscovered Country Kirk does the closing voice over indicating that the ship would carry on with a new crew and continue the mission of going where no man, er no one has gone before.

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    Could you maybe expand on this answer? – Adamant May 24 '16 at 6:13
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    That was an indirect reference to TNG, which had built its own following by the time this movie came around. The A was retired because the B was about to be commissioned. – Machavity Jun 21 '16 at 1:13

protected by Valorum Dec 28 '17 at 21:46

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