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What Happened to the Constitution Class Starships on "Star Trek"?

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Tom Lohr is a futurist and hates cleaning. He is still waiting for his flying car.

A Constitution Class heavy cruiser

A Constitution Class heavy cruiser

Constitution Class Starships

The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) is legendary in the make-believe world of science fiction television. It is also deeply woven into the pop culture fabric of America. It is undoubtedly the most famous space vessel to ever grace the small screen.

Not only did it have epic adventures, but it also had an unforgettable crew. Most notably, Captain James T. Kirk. If you have never heard of Kirk, then you must be from another planet. His name is in songs, fleeting references to heroism, and in the record books of interstellar womanizing. Face it, space stud Kirk and his valiant crew made the Enterprise. Without them, it would have been just another Constitution class starship of the Federation. Those ships were complex and expensive to build. In the original series episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” Kirk tells a 1960s F-104 (ironically named the Starfighter) pilot Captain named John Christopher that there are only 12 starships like the Enterprise in the fleet.

12 is not a large number of ships to scout an immense galaxy. Perhaps that's why they were sent on five-year missions. In fact, the Enterprise completed at least two five-year missions over its 40-year service to Starfleet. During this time it underwent several retrofits to keep it relevant. If finally met its fiery end when Kirk self-destructed the ship over the Genesis planet in the Star Trek III movie.

The Enterprise's fate is well known. But what about the other 11 Constitution class starships? How did they fare over the course of their careers? Kirk and crew were not the only ones boldly going, other crews were also contributing to the expansion of the Federation. Some of those vessels make appearances in the original series, some do not. Eventually, the Federation built dozens of Constitution class starships in several batches. It's the ships that existed during Kirk's command and during the time of the original series airing that we are interested in. Let's delve into Federation history and find out what happened to those original Constitution class hulls.


USS Constellation (NCC-1017)

The Constellation had a storied reputation prior to its demise. It had helped restore order and end plagues on several planets. During it's last deployment it was commanded by Commodore Matthew Decker. In an interesting side note, it was Decker's son that would be given command of the retrofitted Enterprise before it was snatched from him in an ego-drive move by Kirk. Perhaps for the best. The younger Decker ended up in some sort of weird star-crossed, surreal relationship with a bald chick at the end of the first Star Trek movie.

The Constellation had answered a distress call from a planet and responded. It ended up doing battle with a planet eating machine that, to many, resembled a giant, inter-galactic space vagina (don't laugh, that creation helped the episode win a Hugo award). The Constellation fared badly in the battle and Decker beamed his entire crew to the surface of a planet to save them and sent out a distress call that the Enterprise answered. Only, things didn't work out well with that plan. After Decker was the only one left on the ship and his crew was on the planet, the machine proceeded to eat the planet along with the Constellation's crew. In later interviews with the planet killer, it said that Starfleet officers taste like chicken.

Eventually, Kirk rigged the Constellation's engines to explode and set it on a course into the mouth of the planet killer. The resulting explosion did put the machine out of action, also destroying the Constellation.

The Doomsday Machine vs Starfleet

The Doomsday Machine vs Starfleet

USS Defiant (NCC-1764)

The Defiant distinguished itself during the war with the Klingons and later assumed normal mission cruising. It answered a distress call in the Tholian sector. That part of the galaxy has some unusual space properties that caused some sort of human sensory malfunction that caused the Defiant's crew to go completely bonkers and kill each other. Some claim that it was because the Defiant's internet service went on the fritz causing the crew to kill each other over FaceBook deprivation. This theory has never been proven.

The space anomaly caused the ship to start inter-phasing between dimensions and eventually disappear completely. It also caused Kirk, who was decked out in a retro-cool 1960s futuristic spacesuit, to phase in and out. Of course, his crew saved him, but the Defiant was lost. The Defiant did reappear in the prequel show Enterprise, but in an alternate universe. It never saw service again during the original series.


USS Eagle (NCC-956)

Weird hull number no? There's a reason. While the Eagle was part of Starfleet, it was specifically built from the ground up for the Andorians (who called it USS Altirith, the Andorian word for eagle). Slightly modified to better suit the blue-skinned crew, it made a name for itself. Despite having a mainly Andorian crew, some humans did serve aboard her. In particular, a First Officer named Commander James T. Kirk and a Science Officer known as Carol Marcus. If you haven't connected the dots already, the Eagle was where Kirk met Marcus and knocked her up.

The Eagle was supposed to be mentioned in the Star Trek VI movie, but that part of the script never made it to the big screen, just know that it was in the mix during that movie. Eventually, the USS Eagle survived long enough to be decommissioned.

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USS Republic (NCC-1371)

After a normal run as a Federation starship, the Republic was designated as a training vessel. Its job was to train Star Fleet Academy cadets. It was during one of those training missions that Cadet James T. Kirk, ratted out a fellow Cadet named Finney for leaving a valve open that hazarded the ship. As a result, Finney was denied promotion. Years later, Finney faked his own death while serving on the Enterprise under Kirk's command, as detailed in the original series episode “Court Martial.” The Republic eventually outlived its usefulness and was decommissioned.


USS Excalibur (NCC-1664)

They say computers are supposed to make our lives easier and more efficient. Anyone that has been on FaceBook for more than a year knows otherwise. They had the same idea in the future. Starfleet wanted to test a supercomputer that made the starships more deadly through better tactical execution. To prove its worth, the unit (called the M-5 Multitronic Unit) was installed in the Enterprise and war games were scheduled.

To make it a real challenge, the Enterprise was pitted against four other Constitution class starships. One of those four was the Excalibur. As anyone that runs Windows will tell you, sometimes computers have a mind of their own. The M-5 was probably running the latest version of Windows when it went berserk. The test was crafted so that all attacks would be with phasers at super-minimal power; just enough to register as a hit during the games. The M-5 was having none of that. It took control of Enterprise and attacked the other four starships at full power. The attack is detailed in the original series episode “The Ultimate Computer”. The Excalibur took serious hits. The automated attack killed its entire crew and left the ship a severely damaged hulk. While there is no official record of Excalibur's final disposition, an Excalibur II shows up in some novels. This means the original Excalibur was probably scrapped due to extreme damage.


USS Lexington (NCC-1709)

The Lexington was also part of the M-5 war games. While it was not destroyed, it took significant damage as well; killing 53 of her crew. The ship was repaired and eventually updated similar to the Enterprise as depicted as the Star Trek movies began rolling out. After distinguished service, it was decommissioned.


USS Potemkin (NCC-1657)

Chekov would be proud that Starfleet had a starship named after a 20th century Russian warship. Unfortunately for Potemkin, it was also selected for the M-5 war games. It escaped the encounter relatively unscathed and was also retrofitted to Enterprise movie-level. The Potemkin was one of the few starships that gets mentioned more than once or twice throughout all of the series. It was eventually decommissioned.


USS Hood (NCC-1703)

Also a victim of the M-5's insolence, the Hood did not receive major damage in the incident. The starship diligently served the Federation and was earmarked to be scrapped. Before they could cut her up, she was pressed into service to battle the bloodthirsty Tomariians. The Hood went out like a starship should, and was destroyed in the battle.


USS Exeter (NCC-1672)

The Exeter mixed it up with the Klingons a few times and was well respected....until it disappeared. The Enterprise found the ship in orbit around planet Omega IV. It was on autopilot and the only remnants of the crew were crystalized remains. As depicted in the original series episode “The Omega Glory,” The Exeter's commanding officer, Captain Tracey, survived by remaining on the planet. Seems the landing party infected the crew with a disease that turned them into some sort of powder. There was a natural immune system on the planet. Long story short, Tracey got involved in an intra-planet conflict and violated the Prime Directive by becoming involved. The Exeter was declared abandoned, towed back to a starbase, decontaminated, given a new crew, and served until it was decommissioned.


USS Intrepid (NCC-1631)

While the Eagle had mainly an all Andorian crew, the Intrepid was built to Vulcan specifications and manned chiefly by the pointy-eared, green-blooded, nerve-pinching Vulcans. It served at the pleasure of Starfleet Science Academy because, you know those Vulcans, always with the science stuff. On an ill-fated mission to investigate lost contact with the Gamma 7 system, it encountered the same space amoeba that sucked the life out of Gamma 7. It proceeded to do the same to the Vulcans and the Intrepid. Its destruction is chronicled on the original series episode “The Immunity Syndrome.” It was a terrible waste. Vulcans are easy to come by, but Constitution class starships not so much.


USS Farragut (NCC-1647)

The Farragut has the distinction of being the first deep-space assignment for a newly commissioned James T. Kirk. During his tour he saw his share of adversity. The Farragut was attacked by a blood-sucking vampire cloud that killed his captain and others (and some say his girlfriend). During the attack, Kirk delayed firing a phaser and blamed himself for years for the disaster. Events in the original series episode “Obsession” revealed that his delayed actions were of no consequence.

That would have been enough for a really bad tour, but as it seems it always is with Kirk, his vessel was attacked again shortly after the cloud encounter. This time, it was beings who were cocooning members of the Farragut's crew for their own use. Kirk had to think fast and ended up separating the saucer section from the main body of the starship as it had yet to become infested with the creatures. That attack killed nearly half of the crew. Kirk's actions saved about 200 of them. It also signaled the end of the road for the Farragut. It was declared a wreck and stricken from the registry.


USS Kongo (NCC-1710)

Sometimes it is good to fly under the radar. You know, just get by and not be bothered with the hassles of heroics or arduous assignments. Apparently, that is what happened to the Kongo. There is scant mention of it in most Star Trek annals. However, in one explanation it was destroyed in a battle with the Klingons. But if it was destroyed, it should not have been mentioned in the Star Trek VI movie. With the conflicting information, it's best to assume the Kongo completed several unremarkable five-year missions and was eventually decommissioned.


USS Valiant (NCC-1709)

The Valiant was assumed lost while exploring a star cluster. What actually happened was that it made first contact with Eminiar VII. Unbeknownst to the Valiant, Eminiar VII was in a virtual war with a neighboring planet. Tired of the losses of centuries or war, both planets agreed to let a computer decide on casualties of attacks. Once the Valiant was in orbit, it was fair game and was deemed destroyed by the computer. How they managed to actually destroy the starship is unclear.

All of this came to light when the Enterprise made contact with the same planet. Enterprise fell into the same situation and was also deemed a casualty. Instead of letting his ship be obliterated like the Valiant, Kirt kicked ass and took names, while seducing some women along the way.


USS Constitution (NCC-1700)

The Constitution is somewhat of an enigma. Logically, it should be the first ship of the class that bears its name, and the NCC number registry would support that theory. But if one thing is certain, it is that there is a ton of confusion with the hull numbering of Star Fleet vessels. Some say it was only used as a testbed for the class and never saw active duty on other than on an emergency basis, thereby making the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) the first active vessel of that Constitution class. Others claim it had quite a career before being lost in the line of duty, most notably in battle. Despite it being the basis for the best known ships in the original series fleet, little is actually known about it. I like to believe that it died a hero's death in some interstellar conflict.


Fuzzy Math of the 23rd Century

There you have the fates of the known fourteen Constitution class heavy cruisers as named by the creators of the original series. Wait. Fourteen you say? Didn't Kirk tell the wayward fighter pilot from the mid 20th century that there were only twelve like the Enterprise in the fleet? Yes, he did. There are three possible explanations for the disparity: two were destroyed by the time Kirk conversed with the pilot, two had not been built or commissioned yet, or the writers made a goof. It's probably the last, but as we know several were lost in the line of duty, I choose to believe that twelve were all that were left at the time. Space is a dangerous place after all.

Before all of you Star Trek purist get your panties in a wad, know that this is not a precise and indisputable list. If one thing is constant in all canons and offshoots of the Star Trek franchise, it is that there are a ton of inconsistencies. Even the purists/geeks/experts/cosplay freaks know this. While most fates of the above list are facts from events on film, several are the “best guess” fates taken from a variety of television episodes, movies, books and fan films. It's a big universe, and sometimes minutia gets sucked into a black hole, or distorted by a temporal riff, or rewritten by a conquering species, or some other Trekkie phenomenon. Whatever the case, the destinies of the Constitution class ships listed above will suffice for most. For those of you that it doesn't, have a few swings of Romulan ale, it will make everything better

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Tom Lohr


Liz Westwood from UK on June 12, 2020:

I am impressed by your detailed Star Trek knowledge and the great illustrations.

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