Capt. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise had a five-year mission. But one of the starship's shuttles has been on a nearly 50-year mission that ends Wednesday.
The shuttle craft Galileo, which appeared in seven episodes of the original Star Trek series, is settling in Wednesday at its final landing place, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's space center in Houston.
It has been a long voyage for this nearly full-size shuttle that was built for "The Galileo Seven" episode, which first aired in January 1967. The historic TV prop might never have made it to the space center if it wasn't for a first-class Star Trek fan.
Over the past few years, management consultant Adam Schneider of Livingston, N.J., satisfied his love of Star Trek with collecting miniatures. Through connections with online Trekkies, he learned about the reappearance of a full-size shuttle craft.
Many die-hard fans thought the Galileo lost. Paramount had donated the prop to a school after the series ended, and over the years it had been passed along through several owners before surfacing last year at an auction house in Ohio.
The wood had rotted, and the metal skeleton had cracked. "It was in pretty bad shape," says Alec Peters, who runs the CBS archive of Star Trek props, as well as StarTrekProps.com and was consulted by Schneider. "It wasn't meant to last 50 years. It was meant to last three or four seasons."
Schneider made an Internet bid on the Galileo and won it for $61,000. "This is the most significant Star Trek prop in the wild," he says. "My plan was always to take one for the community. I wanted to buy it, fix it and donate it where people can see it."
Once he became the owner, Schneider conversed with several fans online about how to restore the Galileo. The original builder of the prop, Gene Winfield, suggested that a boat restorer might be the best fit. And Master Shipwrights in nearby Atlantic Highlands, N.J., seemed like a logical choice. "I knew they had the shop and the technical skills to do what had to be done," Schneider says.
Hurricane Sandy struck six days after the Galileo arrived at Master Shipwrights. "Their shop took 4 feet of water," Schneider says. "All the tools and their power was destroyed."
But the firm recovered and got to work. They straightened and reinforced the internal metal supports, replaced the wood framework and strengthened the engines, which support the weight of the shuttle. "They put in an amazing amount of effort to make it perfect," says Schneider, who funded the work with the blessing of wife and Trek convertee Leslie. "We're talking about wood that gleams like metal. It looks completely fabulous, like it belongs on the deck of a starship."
Once the restoration was finished, Schneider contacted more than a dozen air and space museums looking to find the right home for the Galileo. "They needed to have space available for this bus-sized thing to deal with. It had to be displayed and be available," he says.
For NASA, the shuttle fits into the space agency's acknowledgement of how science fiction inspires real-world technological advances, says Houston Space Center spokesman Jack Moore. At 22 feet long and 8 feet tall, the Galileo "is a massive craft," he says. "To stand in its presence is itself inspiring. It makes you think like a scientist or engineer just by appreciating the work and the detail put into refurbishing it."
Star Trek's shuttles predated those of NASA, and the agency named the first space shuttle Enterprise. Among NASA's other Star Trek artifacts is the 11-foot Enterprise model on display at the Air & Space Museum in Washington.
Galileo was carefully packed and then transported by flatbed truck to the space center in Houston, where it will be unveiled at a special event Wednesday.
Star Trek fans are forever grateful to the Schneiders "for rescuing this iconic TV artifact, restoring her to better-than-new condition and, most importantly, finding a home where she can be appreciated by thousands," says Dave Arland, a die-hard Trekkie and public relations professional who has followed the Galileo's journey. (View more pictures of the restoration at GalileoRestoration.com.)
"If someone told me as a little kid watching Star Trek hoping to be an astronaut that I would donate a spacecraft to NASA, I would have thought 'That can't happen,"' says Schneider, who will be in Houston along with wife Leslie and their four children. "I'm just thrilled."
Mike Snider, USA TODAY