Why the Enterprise Form?

In vehicle or ship design – whether it’s the design of a car, truck, aircraft carrier, cruise ship, or spaceship – form should follow function. The same is true in the design of buildings on Earth. In fact, form follows function is a guiding principle in modern architectural design. It makes sense that form follows function when designing a building, vehicle, or ship because then the resulting human-made creation is maximally useful to people. When form follows function, the building, vehicle, or ship achieves the optimal operational performance possible for its purpose at the lowest overall cost.

It follows for the Gen1 Enterprise that its form should follow its function. To determine if the Enterprise’s form is appropriate for Earth’s first space supership, we must first clearly define the ship’s function. And since the Enterprise has many functions, a ranked list of these functions is needed.

In ranked order of importance, the Gen1 Enterprise’s top eight functions are:

  1. Inspire people around the world about the adventure of humans going into space in a big way.
  2. Serve as a space station & spaceport with 1g artificial gravity to support large-scale space tourism and to encourage substantial private sector investments in space infrastructure.
  3. Take the first humans to Mars.
  4. Enable the construction of a large, permanent base on Mars.
  5. Visit an asteroid, do experimental mining of it, and do tests to divert its movement.
  6. Construct a large, permanent base on the moon.
  7. Serve as a roving space station to support diverse scientific experiments and space projects.
  8. Go on other interplanetary missions, like to Venus and to Jupiter’s moons.

So the ship’s design should inspire us about the human adventure in space – and in fact that’s its number one functional requirement. And for Earth’s first supership – no other spaceship’s form would be more inspirational to people around the world than the iconic form of the USS Enterprise from the Star Trek science fiction.

If building of the Gen1 USS Enterprise began in Earth’s low orbit, it would generate unremitting fascination around the world as the ship evolves at its construction site in space. It would be like the Eighth Wonder of the World is being built, and people could not help but pay attention.

The function ranked second in importance on the list above – building a space station and spaceport for supporting large-scale tourism and business investments – is also best served by the form of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. If the goal is to draw the maximum number of people to space as paying tourists, and to get businesses jazzed up about investing in the attendant space infrastructure to support this tourism as well as other space ventures, then the supership that people will visit should take on the most dazzling form possible. And what could be more dazzling to visitors than staying on board the USS Enterprise for a few days?

The Gen1 Enterprise will be the first work of space architecture; it will be the first spaceship to include an artistic element in its design as is done in the design of all major skyscrapers on Earth. Skyscrapers on Earth are about more than just warehousing people – they are meant to inspire us too. And the Enterprise is about more than just ferrying people and cargo about in space; it too is meant to inspire us, in fact even more so.

JFK said in his famous moon speech at Rice University:

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? … Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, ‘”Because it is there.”

We send humans beyond Earth with the goal to seek adventure and inspire humanity in the process. So to demand that future large spaceships that will carry humans beyond Earth must be purely utilitarian transport vehicles contradicts the nature of their use. That is like demanding all skyscrapers on Earth be boxes in shape because that is the most utilitarian form for holding people.

But, importantly, a ship in the form of the Enterprise is also well suited to achieving functions 3-8 in the list above, the functions mainly about going on interplanetary missions. The shape of the Enterprise works nicely for providing comfortable 1g artificial gravity during long voyages, for carrying large loads of base-building equipment and base materials, for providing a robust storm shelter to protect crew members from space radiation, and for carrying other assorted large loads of supplies, equipment, probes, and landing craft. Thus, the Enterprise’s form is quite functional for all eight functions in the list above.

However, it should be acknowledged that for functions 3-8 that the Enterprise is not the most functional form for a ship. If NASA was designing a ship where the functional requirements for it were only driven by functions 3-8, it would surely not look like the Enterprise. But, again, the form of Earth’s first supership should not primarily be based on functions 3-8, it should be primarily based on functions 1-2. The ship’s form just has to adequately service the operational requirements for functions 3-8 and give a safe ship for those on board. It doesn’t matter if the Enterprise is not the perfect form for a ship going on interplanetary missions – it only has to be good enough.

A spaceship in the form of the Gen1 Enterprise will act like a giant magnet in the sky when orbiting the Earth – a magnet that is constantly pulling people and businesses from around the world up toward the heavens. The building of the first USS Enterprise will inspire people on Earth like no other project before it. Indeed, we can all watch in awe as the Eighth Wonder of the World unfolds above us.