The Fate of Enterprise-A & the Constitution ClassTwo questions have constantly been asked since the end of the sixth movie "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country": Why was the Enterprise-A retired so soon after commissioning, and what of the fate of the Constitution-class as a whole?
Enterprise-AThere are three prevalent beliefs for the history of the Enterprise-A:
The first of these is based on Gene Roddenberry’s contention that the ship was originally named Yorktown. As the Yorktown was mentioned as being disabled in the fourth movie "Star Trek: The Voyage Home", the adherents of this point believe that this ship was towed back to Spacedock and, in the intervening time, rechristened as Enterprise. While there is a historical precedent in wet navies for this act, it usually only occurs in extreme circumstances, such as selling off a vessel, change of national identity, or recovery of a sunken or otherwise extensively damaged ship. One could argue that Yorktown’s disabling caused extensive damage, but if so then how could it have been repaired in so little time between the resolution of the crisis and the judgment of Kirk & company? Perhaps this is the nature of the problems as evidenced in the next film. If this were in fact the original Yorktown, then by the time of the sixth movie she would now be about 50 years old and thus definitely slated for retirement, much as Enterprise herself was in the third movie "Star Trek: The Search for Spock".
- She was an older ship that was renamed for Kirk.
- She was an older unfinished ship that had been stored and then removed for use by Kirk.
- She was a newbuilt vessel.
The second proposal also takes into account the mechanical problems of the new ship by proposing that the ship had been built years before and then placed into storage for one reason or another. There she sat until hauled out for a quick refitting & upgrading before being commissioned as Enterprise and handed over to Kirk. Proponents of this these often point to the “dodgy” hull number assigned the ship, the speculation of a hull being left untended for a number of years, and the slapdash nature of the upgrading to modern standards causing the aforementioned systemic problems. The stress & damage of these factors would lead to a potential early retirement of the spaceframe.
The third proposal is based primarily of the visual evidence of modern control systems & construction elements as well as Scotty’s line from "Star Trek: The Final Frontier" of the ship having “a fine engine” but being “put together by a bunch of monkeys.” Those who back this theory often argue that there would be no point in giving the “Hero of Starfleet” an aged vessel, that in fact it would be an insult. They claim that the damage inflicted during the battle at Khitomer was extensive enough to warrant decommissioning.
Given the facts in evidence, it seems most likely that the ship was in fact an older vessel rather than a newbuild. The damage incurred at Khitomer was hardly enough to pull the ship out of service if she were newer, and Uhura’s line of “we’re to put into Spacedock to be decommissioned” implies not a spur-of-the-moment decision but one that had been planned for a while. Removing a ship from service after 7 years when still top of the line makes no sense at all.
The question remains, then if it was a renamed ship or a stored ship. While both are plausible, one tends to lean toward the second idea—that it was a mostly finished ship pulled out of mothballs and pressed into service in an unusual circumstance. We know later on that the Defiant prototype languished in a holding area for many years until resurrected by Sisko; a similar arrangement might have existed here. The Yorktown name would no doubt have as much of a lineage as the Enterprise one, and to discard that one so offhandedly would be a slap in the face to that name.
Constitution ClassWe then come to the question of the Constitution-class as a whole. Arguably one of if not the most famous ship classes in Starfleet history, it seems to have disappeared into the mists of history. Compared to its contemporaries still prevalent in TNG times, Constitutions have never been seen and often leave one wondering what happened. Although there are only 17 vessels considered canonical, the majority of fans agree that there were more built later on, especially after the success of the refit program. Here we may speculate and tie the two issues together.
In the early or mid-2270s, Starfleet planned to start a new batch of Constitutions built to the new refit specs. One of these ships was almost finished before the project was cancelled in favor of the new Constellation-class cruiser design. The mostly completed vessel was mothballed and placed in storage, unnamed, unregistered, and untouched. By the end of the 2270s, Starfleet decided that with the anticipated onlining of the Excelsior-class in the mid-2280s, a smaller, slightly less capable "fleet escort" cruiser should be made available to cruise with the new class. Several designs were proposed, but the final decision was to resume production of the Constitution-class in its refit design. This rebuilding effort began to build around 2280 and started commissioning a few years later; more and more of these ships came off the ways, with the final number being about 130 newbuilds.
When the events of the fourth movie occured, the older ship had been discovered and hauled out of mothballs, undergoing the upgrade process. The original plan was to name the ship Yorktown, replacing the original ship, which would be soon decommissioning. The probe crisis changed the plan, the upgraded vessel is named Enterprise instead, and either Yorktown continues in service for some years or is decommissioned anyway and the name given to another ship. (This is backed by the line on VOY: “Flashback” that Tuvok’s father was serving aboard a ship of that name in 2293.)
Move forward 7 years to 2293. Not only are the original Constitutions still in service but there are several more recently built ships of the class in service as well. Even though the Transwarp Drive Project did not perform to expected desires, the Excelsior-class nevertheless began rapid production and in many areas formed small flotillas with 1 or 2 of these new Constitutions by their side in the “fleet escort” role as well as internal patrol and exploration duties.
The events of "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country" led to the signing of the Khitomer Accords, forming the start of a real peace between the Federation and the Klingons. In the treaty, there was a proviso for the retirement of older capital vessels as part of a general disarming; this is akin to the limitations of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty. In this case, certain older vessels and classes were to be withdrawn from service. Among them on the Klingon side are older D-7s and K’tingas; on the Federation side older ships including Constitutions built before 2280. Since the Enterprise-A was in fact a ship from the 2270s, she fell under the treaty limitations and was slated to decommission; several months later, her name went to a new variant of the Excelsior-class. By 2295 all vessels of the original batch were withdrawn.
Production of the 2nd batch of the class stopped in 2301 as it was replaced by newer designs and the class was slowly withdrawn from service starting in 2319. By 2331, there were no Constitutions left in active service.
(Theory by Shik)