I do not understand your concern. While the Oberth Class might have been a Starship Class of the early 23rd Century it apparently no longer qualifies as such next to the new starships and has therefore been downgraded to belong to the Scout Class, where it mostly serves as a survey vessel beginning with ST III and in obvious accordance with the requirements of TPTB.
In the aforementioned issue of Cinefex
ST III visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston referred to the ship as the “scout-class vehicle the Grissom
” designed by Nilo Rodis and/or Dave Carson. Nilo Rodis also made that size comparison chart (later enhanced by Andrew Probert) where it said next to the Grissom
“Federation Survey Vessel” which seems perfectly compliant with a “Scout Class” vessel.
Unlike the Miranda Class the Oberth Class has a secondary hull but contrary to the Enterprise
design, where the bow with the main sensor-deflector can have its blunt shape thanks to deflectors, the Oberth Class features a curved bow that doesn’t necessarily seem to require deflector protection and could just repel smaller objects on collision course mechanically (in other words: if you have navigational deflectors, your bow can be shaped anything you like, if you don’t, the bow should be shaped accordingly).
No, I don’t have sources that explicitly suggest a deliberate intention of Rodis and Carson, but IMHO, there are just too many coincidences to write it off as simply accidental:
- Of the thousands of names that could have been picked for the study model, the one they picked is the one of those spaceships that predate TOS and had never been featured onscreen. Remarkable!
- The low registry NCC-638 (first time onscreen) suggests a conscious decision to show a vessel that was built much earlier than the Enterprise, which of course would apply to either one of the two Valiants. Alternately, they could have adopted Franz Joseph’s system but I don’t think that’s the case here. If it were they pushed his one-nacelled scout design over the cliff and should have rather gone for a prefix beginning with “7” or “8”
- Ralston didn’t refer to “Grissom Class” but “Scout Class” which is the same (and accurate) terminology as “Starship Class” is for the Enterprise (and the “Destroyer Class” mentioned in The Making of Star Trek). This tells me that either Rodis or Carson did their homework or that one or both of them were probably Trekkers that knew what they were doing.
- The Oberth Class has a unique design element that evolution-wise would place it perfectly between the starships Archon and Horizon and the TOS Enterprise. But to even come up with this design element, would have required knowledge about “A Piece of he Action” and some TOS preproduction intentions that definitely required reading The Making of Star Trek, IMHO (more about that in Part III).
The pod apparently houses antimatter but whether the Grissom
had shields or not is debatable, as Timo
pointed out. While we probably all concur that the secondary hull contains matter-antimatter components, what we see in TNG doesn’t look like a classic example of “form follows function” but rather like a considerable amount of upgrades and refits that do not reflect the original arrangement.
I hope I addressed the ILM intention issue above. Why of the thousands of names available for a supposedly “new” design did they pick that
“old” name (and long before the name-recycling craziness of the TNG era took over!)?
You’re right, the nacelle caps of the Grissom
are of the same make as those of Excelsior
. Let’s see how much this is going to impact the remainder of my treatise yet to come.
registry is actually NCC-640 but that still supports the notion that the Oberth Class ships featured in the movies belong to the 6th Federation design series.
Undoubtedly, Franz Joseph’s Revere
were the inspiration for the subspace chatter in TMP, but we never saw these onscreen.
For me, the first authorities on such issues are the Enterprise
designers Matt Jefferies and Andrew Probert. The prefix designates the (TOS) design series (Jefferies) and warp drive nacelles have to work in tandem (Probert), so in my world neither Revere
can possibly be one-nacelled ships and Columbia
simply has to be an Oberth Class (according to Jefferies). Pegasus
definitely appears to be Oberth Class in TNG.
Considering Oberth was German and Tsiolkovsky was Russian, I can’t imagine any good American to sit still and not demand that one Oberth Class vessel bears the name of America’s father of rocket science (and especially that these three are too often referred to as the 3 fathers of rocket science).
Just to name a measly TNG shuttlecraft after this pioneer doesn’t seem to be appropriate.
I think that was the "intermission", so here comes Part II
Doesn’t the Grissom design look unorthodox and out of line (and time)?
There is a certain set of design guidelines for warp-worthy spaceships and even the ancient Daedalus Class (no matter how debatable or obsolete because of Enterprise NX-01
it may have become) sticks to these rules: Either
the warp nacelles are first and foremost attached to the engineering hull of a spaceship or
they are attached to an extended primary hull of a spaceship which contains engineering (e.g. Reliant, Stargazer, Voyager).
The Oberth Class falls under neither of those two categories.
While the ship appears to have an engineering hull shaped like a large pod, the two fins holding the pod don’t connect to the warp nacelles but to a slab (thicker than the fins) onto which the nacelles are attached just as the nearby primary hull (the slab is too small for an engineering section there, compare to Reliant
The purpose of the large pod?
With no previous knowledge of warp drive, Jefferies first assumed the warp engines of the Enterprise
to be dangerous (“extremely powerful”) and felt “they had to be designed away from the body” (during the original series it was established that the warp nacelles did contain antimatter and the corresponding reactors!).
Supposedly, Matt Jefferies wasn’t fond of having an engineering room from which to control the engines and felt it could be done remote controlled from a panel on the (auxilary) bridge (which occasionally happened during the original series).
Maybe the Oberth Class design reflects more than any other design what Matt Jefferies originally intended for his Enterprise
At first glance the Grissom’s
pod looks like it’s a payload being held by fins of what is basically a warp sled (the fins do not seem to have the space for a turbo lift). Irrespective what kind of payload we assume it’s holding, the pod looks rather massive and sturdy than lightweight and hollow. Thus, one may ask how this ship will next be able to move
the payload from A to B. The stern of the bridge
seems to house two cylindrical fusion reactors but it’s hard to believe they provide enough energy to impulse drive the mass of the ship anywhere, mind provide the incredible amount of energy the warp engines require to warp space (unless we assume the Oberth Class to be a 25th Century design that travelled back in time
Obviously the matter-antimatter storage and reaction core have to be somewhere and the pod seems to be perfect place where to store this hazardous stuff with a safety distance to the crew quarters in the primary hull (which will simply detach in case of an imminent core breach and leave the entire warp sled behind, similar to the events featured in Star Trek VII).
Is the pod too big to only contain matter-antimatter and its reaction core?
The original early 23rd Century Enterprise
under the command of Captain Pike and Captain Kirk’s had at least three matter-antimatter reactors (one in each of the warp nacelles, one in the engineering hull) which eventually evolved into a single matter-antimatter reactor (“warp core”) for the motion picture Enterprise
and the federation vessels in the subsequent Star Trek television series.
In terms of technical evolution we have ourselves experienced remarkable progress in the last decades, where items became more efficient and smaller, and there is no reason not to assume the aforementioned to be an appropriate analogy for the future and starships.
A starship design (credibly) predating the TOS Enterprise would have probably featured even bulkier technology to contain antimatter and/or bring it into controlled reaction with normal matter to produce energy.
And the Oberth Class obviously does have a pod-shaped engineering hull that would meet such expectations. Assuming it to be a new and late 23rd Century design would demand answers why the relation in terms of volume is so noticeably different between the pod and the primary hull.
Undoubtedly, technological advances during the 23rd Century would have freed up space in the interior of the Oberth Class antimatter pod to allow the additional installation of sophisticated scientific and sensory equipment. But before imagining that we should know which purpose the giant pod served in the very first place.
Do familiar exterior details indicate late 23rd Century design?
features details supposedly characteristic of the late 23rd Century, in particular the grid lined “emergency flush intake” slots (according to Probert actually rather a valve than an intake) slots and the “emergency flush vent” surface panels seen on the motion picture Enterprise
and ST II Reliant
. But a closer look at the original 11’ VFX model of the TOS Enterprise
reveals the starboard side of the engineering hull
(ahead of the red Starfleet emblem stripes) to feature an almost identical, angular surface panel.
Admittedly, the pylons of Grissom’s
warp sled and the pod itself look rather streamlined in contrast to the rigid and rectangular (television) or triangular (movies) pylons holding the warp nacelles of the Enterprises
. But so looked automotive designs from the earlier 1950’s compared to car designs of the 1970’s. Spaceships preceding the known ones mustn’t necessarily look ugly but ideally should
be different and such is the obvious case with the Oberth Class.
What appears to look like rectangular convective fins is very likely an essential part of Grissom’s
warp engines. Although the early Baton Rouge Class
isn’t strictly canon, it is semi-official because it appeared in the Marvel Comics
and had been originally designed by no other than TNG’s ship designer Rick Sternbach for the 1979 Spaceflight Chronology
(and accessible by the ILM model makers!). Here, the warp engines also have a convective fin arrangement at the end of the warp nacelles but it’s a circular one instead of Grissom’s
rectangular one, suggesting a leap in evolution ahead of Grissom
on the path to the television Enterprise
The strong hint for a late 23rd Century design comes from the caps of the warp nacelles which are almost identical to the latest starship design, namely that of USS Excelsior
also making her debut in ST III.
Most assuredly this is not a unique design trademark of a transwarp engine (unless we assume the Grissom had transwarp capability). It can’t be a general and useful warp engine improvement / upgrade as no Constitution, Miranda, Soyuz or Constellation Class vessel will ever be seen with these caps. It could be a design feature from the construction era depicted in ST III, but it could also be a design feature unique to the Oberth Class that had a comeback with the Excelsior
and proved successful for the particular performance of this class.
In Part III I’d like to talk about the odd and unusual exterior details and the other issues which need to be addressed (e.g. longevity). Stay tuned.