by Christopher Jones
When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987, one of the most immediately noticeable differences between it and The Original Series—apart from the new dress option for male officers—was the ship itself. As the show jumped nearly a century into the future, a technological leap was needed. This came in the form of size and luxury. The Enterprise-D was a huge vessel, more than twice the length of Kirk’s Enterprise and with a displacement 23x that of the original 1701.
Whereas the original Enterprise had a utilitarian feel, this new Enterprise was more like a luxury hotel in space. Reflecting the decadence of the 1980s, this starship sported carpeting, wooden handrails, a restaurant with a view, and the ultimate toy for playtime: the holodeck.
The Ritz-Carlton touch was not entirely self-indulgence on the part of Starfleet, however. There was a purpose behind the luxury. The Galaxy Class starship was created to fill a gap in the fleet. With a desire to launch more exploratory missions into deep space, Starfleet needed a ship that could function autonomously for extended periods of time; thus the Galaxy Class was born. With a standard mission of seven years, the Galaxy Class had to be able to support families and make the crew feel more at home during the long periods between visits to a starbase.
Development of the Galaxy Class
With its enormous size and luxurious interiors it is easy to view the Galaxy Class as the pinnacle of Federation technology. However, even at the time of launch, the Galaxy Class did not always represent the latest and greatest technology. Unlike some ships in the fleet, this was not a rush job. Development of the Galaxy Class began more than a decade before the launch of the class’s namesake, the USS Galaxy, and it was two decades before our familiar 1701-D left spacedock. The project started in 2343 and it was’t until 2357 that the prototype ship, the Galaxy, took flight. The USS Yamato and USS Enterprise-D launched in 2363, exactly 20 years after the start of their development.
Technical Specifications of the Galaxy Class
While all of the technology aboard the Galaxy Class may not have been new, the design itself was by far the most sophisticated ever attempted by Starfleet and allowed for the easy implementation of new technologies. These ships were regularly outfitted with new, advanced equipment.
Let’s take a closer look at the technical specifications of the Galaxy Class starship. Some of the very specific model information for systems and equipment is shown here as specified in Star Trek: Starship Spotter by Adam Lebowitz and Robert Bonchune. It’s not really considered cannon, but it does give a more realistic feel to the technology and helps put different ship designs into context.
Crew Complement: 1,012
Standard Mission Duration: 7 years
Recommended Overhaul: 20 years
Length: 641 meters
Beam: 467.1 meters (the width of the ship at its widest point)
Draft: 137.5 meters (the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull)
Displacement: 4,500,000 metric tons (As opposed to just 190,000 for the original Enterprise.)
Warp Engines: 2 LF-41 Advanced Linear Warp Drive Units
Impulse Engines: 3 FIG-5 Subatomic Unified Energy Impulse Units (1 in stardrive, 2 in saucer)
Cruising Speed: Warp 6
Maximum Cruising Speed: Warp 9.6
Maximum Speed: Warp 9.8
11 Type X Collimated Phaser Arrays
3 Mk 80 Direct-Fire Photon Torpedo Tubes
CIDSS-3 Primary Force Field and Deflector Control System
Primary Computer System: M-15 Duotronic V Processor
Primary Navigation System: RAV/ISHAK Mod 3 Warp Celestial Guidance
Deflector Systems: CIDSS-3 Primary Force Field and Deflector Control System
4 Work Bee General Utility Craft
1 Mark 1 Captain’s Yacht
Mission of the Galaxy Class
By the mid 24th century Starfleet had explored a majority of nearby space and there was a push for longer missions that could take exploration into the deeper reaches of the galaxy. In order to do this Starfleet developed the aptly named Galaxy Class.
The mission of this new mammoth was to take over the lead role in Starfleet’s exploration initiatives from the aging Oberth and Ambassador Class ships and to support diplomacy in the ever-expanding borders of the Federation. In addition, the Galaxy Class was intended to advance the development of scientific instrumentation by providing engineers and scientists with an advanced deep-space platform on which to test and refine their tools and methods.
Although the standard deployment of the Galaxy Class was listed as seven years, the intention of this ship design was to take on exploratory missions that could extend beyond a decade. Children could be born and grow up on missions of this length, hence the homey feel of the ship.
Another mission objective of the Galaxy Class was to execute and support Federation policy in the outlying regions of the Federation. This task, along with humanitarian aid missions, sometimes required the transport of diplomats and large numbers of civilians, as well as playing host to negotiations—all additional reasons for the size and refinement of these large vessels.
The Galaxy Class On Screen
Although the Galaxy Class is one of the most memorable images in all of Star Trek, there have been very few ships of this class. Thanks to the weekly missions of the Enterprise-D we are more familiar with the Galaxy Class than perhaps any other Starfleet vessel. Yet there were in fact only six Galaxy Class vessels constructed as part of the Galaxy Class Starship Development Project. According to information in the reference book Starship Spotter, there were 12 Galaxy Class frames assembled but only six were completed. The other six were moved to different locations around the Federation and stored in case of emergency. These six frames were eventually used to construct six additional Galaxy Class ships after the first Borg invasion and the decimation of the fleet in the Battle of Wolf 359.
Of the six vessels initially constructed, all but the USS Galaxy have been seen on screen. Let’s take a look at each.
The USS Galaxy NCC-70637 (originally NX-70637) was the prototype starship for the Galaxy Class project. Glimpses of this ship can be seen on Deep Space Nine in episodes dealing with the Dominion War. The Galaxy took part in the First Battle of Chin’toka (“Tears of the Prophets”) and the Battle of Cardassia (“What You Leave Behind”). A reference to the Galaxy is made in the film Nemesis as well when it is said that the ship was assigned to Starfleet Battle Group Omega.
Commanded by Captain Donald Varley, the USS Yamato NCC-71807 was the sister ship of the Enterprise-D as they were both completed and launched at the same time from the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards on Mars. The Yamato was first seen in the Season 1 episode “Where Silence Has Lease,” although the ship was not actually there but rather an illusion presented to the crew of the Enterprise by the alien intelligence known as Nagilum.
The Yamato was later seen in the Second Season episode “Contagion,” in which the ship was destroyed by an anti-matter explosion caused by the introduction of an ancient Iconian computer program into the Yamato’s systems.
The USS Odyssey NCC-71832 was a Galaxy Class starship under the command of Captain Keogh. The Odyssey led a mission to rescue Benjamin Sisko from the Dominion in the Deep Space Nine Second Season finale “The Jem’Hadar.” The mission ended in disaster when the Odyssey was destroyed by a Jem’Hadar suicide run on the ship’s neck, highlighting one of the biggest design flaws of the Galaxy Class.
During the Klingon invasion of Cardassian space in 2372, portrayed in the DS9 Season Four premier “Way of the Warrior,” Admiral Hastur and the USS Venture NCC-71854 led a task force to support Captain Sisko and his crew as they attempted to deal with the newly aggressive Klingon movements in the region.
Seen only briefly, the USS Challenger NCC-71099 was a Galaxy Class ship seen twice on Voyager. In an alternate future timeline in the episode “Timeless” the Challenger was under the command of Captain Geordi LaForge. Later, in the Voyager finale “Endgame,” the Challenger was part of the fleet waiting on the other end of the transwarp conduit that carried Janeway’s crew home to intercept the Borg sphere that emerged carrying Voyager.
And of course there is the best-known Galaxy Class ship, the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D. Under the command of Captain Jean Luc Picard, the Enterprise-D served as the Federation’s flagship from the time of its launch in 2363 until it was destroyed by a Klingon Bird-of-Prey during a mission to Veridian III in 2371.
Additional Galaxy Class Ships
Though canon ends there, the Galaxy Class has been used extensively in Star Trek games and novels. While we won’t go through all of them, here are a few notable examples:
The USS Excalibur NCC-26517 is the centerpiece of Peter David’s Star Trek: New Frontier series under the command of Captain Mackenzie Calhoun. When the original Ambassador Class Excalibur was destroyed by a Narobian computer virus in the Double Helix series, a new Galaxy Class ship was commissioned with the name USS Excalibur and the registry number NCC-26517-A.
After his return from the Prophets—and the various events that followed—Captain Benjamin Sisko was given command of the Galaxy Class USS Robinson in 2382 in the Star Trek: Typhon Pact novel Rough Beasts of the Empire.
The USS Asgard was a Galaxy Class starship destroyed by the Breen during the Dominion War in the Battle of Rashanar. It was a key site of events in the TNG novel A Time to Be Born, part of a series of seven books that fills in the gaps between Star Trek Insurrection and Star Trek Nemesis.
These are three notable Galaxy Class ships from the “non-canon” Star Trek universe. If you’re interested in a full list, you can find one at Memory Alpha, and more information on each of those literary ships at Memory Beta, the non-canon Star Trek wiki.
If you would like more details about the Galaxy Class there are several very detailed books available. These include Star Trek: Starship Spotter by Adam Lebowitz and Robert Bonchune, Star Trek: The Next Generation NCC-1701-D Blueprints by Rick Sternbach, and, for the most in-depth view of the development process, Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual by Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda.