Quite an old well, but it appears there's still water in it.
A few thoughts. First and foremost, I don't see Oberth
as being a missing link between Constitution
nor do I see it as being a precursor to Constitution
. I see it as being an older, somewhat less versatile vessel of similar age to the other two classes.
I think part of the problem with the Oberth
lays with its registry, and the inherent nature of registries. It's my opinion that trying to use registry to guess age isn't going to get us anywhere. Why did the makers of STIII pick NCC-638? I think someone else correctly stated that NCC-2000 was meant to suggest shiny, new, and big. I think the low registry of Grissom
was meant only to suggest a less powerful ship, and we should probably leave it at that. While I am a fan of Mr. Jefferies' registry schema, I do not think anyone in latter-day Trek made any effort to adhere to it whatsoever, and we cannot retroactively attempt to apply it with any measure of success.
What do we actually know about the class's history and mission?
- Oberth class ships with registries in the NCC-600 range were in service in the 2280s, and may've been considered "scout-class" vessels
- Oberth class ships with registries circa NCC-19000 and NCC-59000 remained in service into the 2370s, at least
- Oberth class ships were usually seen conducting scientific surveys, Pegasus excluded
- Some Oberth class ships appeared to be operated by civilian groups
From this, I would infer that indeed the Oberth
class was designed for scout/survey expeditions. The design was probably simple and easy to maintain, allowing for a long design life.
Was the design older than the Constitution
? Assuming registries are at least somewhat sequential, probably. I don't know that it was as old as a 22nd century design, though, and would prefer if it weren't. (I've suspected for a while that sometime in the early 23rd century Starfleet registries were reset - perhaps as the result of a major fleet integration between the various Federation worlds. I don't base this on anything other than the fact that it would make life a bit easier.)
I suspect that in the TOS nomenclature of Starship vs. not, that the Oberth
would have probably been considered a Scout-class vessel. If memory serves, TMoST does mention such ships. If we are to take TMoST further into account, Mirandas
may be the 'Destroyer Class,' where Kirk attained his first command.
I suspect the Grissom
as seen in TSFS had undergone a refit or two bringing it technologically close to par with its Constitution
What do we actually know about the ship's size and arrangement?
- TSFS and Mr. Probert scaled the ship at around 120 meters long; some depictions vary but this appears to be creative intent.
- The "secondary hull" is connected by two pylons rather than a single neck to the saucer and nacelles. This is rather unique in Starfleet design, as the closest similar feature would seem to be the mission pod on the Nebula class.
- The ship's nacelles are very close to the saucer, which seems antithetical to the Jefferies design ethos of "get them the hell away from living people."
- The S.S. Vico, at least, contained many different science stations; however, as no two Oberth interiors matched closely, we may surmise this was not the case with all ships of the class.
- On the topic of differing interior arrangement, we may be inclined to state that this indicates the class as quite versatile, perhaps contributing to its longevity - but actually we seem to see the same thing with most other Starfleet ship interiors that happen to not be the same design as our series' hero ship. We know that the real world reason is the reuse of whatever sets are available. (In other words, all Starfleet ships probably feature an easily reconfigurable interior arrangement.)
- MSD cutaways seen on screen seem to suggest a few decks, as well as decks in the "pod." We must take these with a grain of salt, of course, since we know MSDs are not infallible or definitive. Of the Pegasus at least, it was said engineering was at the "center" of the ship, even if it was originally intended to be an all-new ship class. This may mean the center of the saucer section, or the center of the pod.
From all this, I think we can infer a few things.
- The class is most likely indeed a general purpose scout/surveyor/science ship. I would reinforce this by the notion of using one as an unlikely testbed for a phased cloaking system (Pegasus) making all kinds of sense.
- Most of the standard command and control systems are probably congregated in the saucer section, along most likely with mission-configurable stations that tend to be science stations, and crew accommodations.
- The "pod" is probably not hot swappable, but is probably easily configured for a variety of missions - and may indeed differ greatly between each ship of the class. I would suggest that while engineering and the warp core may indeed be down there as per MSD on screen, that perhaps for this class those operations are even more automated than on other vessels, requiring minimal direct crew interaction. The warp engines are probably up top to make swapping the pod easier, even if the pod contains the actual warp reaction system.
I once helped LCARS24
make an MSD of the class for his projects and we went through some of this same line of thinking. We ended up putting the warp core "down below" and rationalized that the people who worked in the pod tended to stay in the pod, and the people who ran and steered the ship probably tended to stay up top.
So, probably along the lines of what we must conclude for Excelsior
in the Oberth
Starfleet must have had a design so efficient that it sustained use for at least a century. However, I don't think we have evidence to infer more beyond that. In fact, I would think if anything older ship classes (pre-TOS) would have shorter lifespans. Further, I suspect that Excelsior
, and Oberth
are exceptions to starship lifespan, rather than the rule; while certainly Starfleet engineers hoped for such longevity, apparently by design in the Galaxy
project, I don't believe any other class has demonstrated such prolific long-lastedness as these three.
I am of two minds when it comes to inferring the nature of unseen classes from TOS. Certainly had we seen them at the time TOS was made they would not have been the Oberth
. What they would have been, only Mr. Jefferies could say. However, I feel compelled to retroactively state that Miranda
s and Oberth
s were indeed in service in that time frame. Would the Carolina
have been an Oberth?
No. Would the Valiant
have been? I would argue this to be possible, but unsubstantiated.
I would feel similarly about the Beagle,
but I feel this issue goes deeper. Just what is the nature of Starfleet's policy when it comes to their ship designs operated by civilians? Is it the case where outmoded models are sold off for civilian use, or from the outset are some designs shared by both? I don't see a good answer, but looking at the evidence so far it seems that the only Starfleet designs we have seen used in a civilian capacity (primarily on TNG) have had a lower registry number, which seems to fit with the construction block for other ships of their class seen on TNG and which may've been retired and "sold off" to civilian interests. The only comparable quasi-civilian ship would be VGR's Raven
, but that's a whole other can of worms.