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?
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.