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Constitution Class Starships
The purpose of this article is to explore the number of Constitution class starships in existence during the TOS era, identify as many of them as possible by name, and list the episodes in which they appear or are mentioned. It will investigate both canon and non-canon sources. As usual, any corrections or additions should be emailed via the button below.
The Making of Star Trek
The book 'The Making of Star Trek' by Stephen E. Whitfield contains considerable detail about the original series. The author had access to the production crew and included several passages describing aspects of Star Trek technology and Starfleet. It includes the following direct quotation from Gene Roddenberry :
'In addition to the twelve starships, there are lesser classes of vessels, capable of operating over much more limited distances.'
Note that the book refers to 'twelve starships', not 'twelve Constitution Class starships'. During TOS 'starship' was a description that applied only to what we would later come to be the Constitution class. Even the dedication plaque of the USS Enterprise supports this idea :
No other vessels were considered to be Starships until 'Star Trek II : The Wrath of Khan' and the Starship Reliant.
So during TOS, the writers thought of Starfleet as consisting of twelve large long range vessels dubbed 'Starships', plus some an unspecified number of smaller, less capable of vessels which were not considered to be Starships. Later the term Starship has come to be applied to any interstellar craft of significant size, with different types of Starship differentiated by class names.
Canon support for the idea of twelve Constitution class Starships in the fleet comes in the episode 'Tomorrow is Yesterday'. The Enterprise is thrown through time and space after an encounter with a 'black star'. The ship finds itself in Earth's atmosphere in the year 1969. Disabled and struggling to make orbit, they are intercepted by a USAF fighter. When the ship's tractor beam destroys the aircraft, they beam the pilot aboard. When the pilot, Captain Christopher, compliments Kirk on the advanced nature of the Enterprise Kirk smiles proudly and declares :
|'There are only a dozen like her in the fleet.'|
Some take this to mean that there were twelve constitution class ships in Starfleet, some assume that it means there are thirteen - the Enterprise and twelve more like it. As we can see above, the creators of the show favoured the former.
Canonically speaking, eight of the twelve Constitution class ships were positively identified by an actual visual sighting on screen during TOS :
USS Enterprise : Seen throughout TOS.
USS Constellation : Seen in the episode 'The Doomsday Machine', this vessel was wrecked by the alien planetkiller and later destroyed by Kirk.
USS Defiant : Seen in 'The Tholian Web', the ship was lost in interphase space.
USS Excalibur : This was one of the vessels which took part in the wargames with the M5 equipped Enterprise. The ship was badly damaged and its entire crew killed.
USS Hood : This was one of the vessels which took part in the wargames with the M5 equipped Enterprise. The ship survived the exercise intact.
USS Lexington : This was one of the vessels which took part in the wargames with the M5 equipped Enterprise. The ship took heavy damage but remained operational.
USS Potemkin : This was one of the vessels which took part in the wargames with the M5 equipped Enterprise. The ship survived the exercise intact.
USS Exeter : This ship was seen in orbit of the planet Omega IV. The crew was killed by a disease, but the ship remained intact and would presumably be salvaged afterwards.
If we proceed on the basis that any ship described specifically as a Starship is also a Constitution class vessel, we can fill in some of the missing slots :
USS Farragut : In the episode 'Obsession', Kirk says he served upon the Farragut eleven years ago. At that time a strange cloud-creature killed the captain and 200 others, which Spock describes as 'nearly half the crew'. The Farragut therefore carried a crew of more than 400. This is an excellent match for the Enterprise crew figure of 430, making the Farragut an excellent candidate for being a Constitution class.
During 'Obsession', Kirk's crew encounters the same cloud creature he met eleven years ago and relieves a young officer for hesitating before firing on it. McCoy discusses this decision with him :
|'Ensign Garrovick is a ship command decision. You're straying out of your field Doctor.'|
|'Am I? I was speaking of Lieutenant James T. Kirk, of the Starship Farragut.'|
McCoy's use of the word 'Starship' makes the Farragut's status as a Constitution class as close to canon as we can come.
USS Republic : In 'Court Martial', Kirk describes an incident which took place early in his career :
|'We were assigned to the same ship some years later. I relieved him on watch once. I found a circuit open to the atomic matter piles once that should have been closed. Another five minutes, it could have blown up the ship.'|
|'Ship nomenclature - specify.'|
|'United starship Republic, number 1371'.|
As with the Farragut, the Republic is identified as a Starship at a time when the term Starship referred only to Constitution class vessels.
USS Intrepid : This ship is stationed at Starbase 11 in 'Court Martial', where repairs on it are suspended in favour of the Enterprise. The ship also features in 'The Immunity Syndrome', where it is destroyed by a space borne entity. The ship has an all-Vulcan crew, and Spock feels their deaths telepathically when the ship is lost. Although normally Vulcans are limited to telepathic contact only with those in close proximity, Spock says that he could feel the minds of '400 Vulcans' as they died even over the great distance between them :
|'Captain... the Intrepid... it just died. With four hundred Vulcans aboard - all dead.'|
Although the Enterprise has a crew of some 430, in 'The Ultimate Computer' Kirk - appalled at the prospect of the M5 attacking four Constitution class ships - states that 'twelve hundred' men and women could be killed. This indicates that either the normal crew of a Constitution class is 400 and the Enterprise carries an extra 30 crew members for some reason, or that Kirk just tends to round the 430 down to 400 sometimes. Either way, the crew numbers for the Intrepid are certainly close enough to those of the Enterprise to indicate that it is a Constitution class ship, although this cannot be considered certain.
If the Farragut, Republic and Intrepid are indeed Constitution classes, then we have identified eleven of the twelve ships in service during TOS. In TNG it appears that the class name comes from the first ship built of the class, i.e. the USS Excelsior was the first of the Excelsior class and so on. If so, then the twelfth Constitution class vessel should be the USS Constitution itself. This would relegate the USS Yorktown mentioned in 'Obsession' to being some other type of ship.
USS Yorktown : 'Obsession' also mentions this vessel, which is waiting for the Enterprise to meet it so that supplies of a vaccine can be transferred. No further information is given on the ship, and it is never described as a Starship. Some sources claim that Roddenberry intended the Enterprise-A to be a renaming of the USS Yorktown; this is not canon, but certainly the build time for the E-A would be remarkably short if it was a brand new ship. If Roddenberry's statement were true then the USS Yorktown from TOS is more likely to have been a Starship, though this would still not be certain.
The Original Series Technical Manual
Another book written with the co-operation and support of Gene Roddenberry was the Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph. Gene would later have something of a falling out with Mr. Joseph, and moved Trek in a direction that over-ruled much of the information in the book. But the Tech Manual remains a window into Gene's thinking during the period immediately after the original series.
The book describes the Constitution class ships as 'Class I heavy cruisers' and as 'Mark IX class' ships. It claims that there were four production runs of these ships :
|The following ships of the MK-IX class were authorized by the original articles of federation of stardate 0965: |
The following ships of the MK-IXA class were authorized by the star fleet appropriation of stardate 3220:
The following replacements for the constitution class were authorized by star fleet appropriation of stardate 4444:
The following ships of the MK-IXB class were authorized by the star fleet appropriation of stardate 5930:
*class ship. **lost in the line of duty. All names preceded with 'U.S.S'.
Some aspects of the chart work well with canon - the NCC numbers for the Enterprise, Constellation and Republic all match the canonically established numbers. Other aspects are more problematic - the list identifies the USS Yorktown as a Constitution class ship, and claims that the first production was of 14 ships rather than twelve. One way around this problem is to suggest that the Constitutions were still being built during the time of TOS. We know that the Enterprise was in service at least as early as 2254, since this is the date of the original pilot episode 'The Cage'. Kirk's line that there were twelve starships in the fleet comes in the year 2267, while the mention of the USS Yorktown comes on the following year. So we could assume that Kirk was correct that there were twelve ships in the fleet as of 2267, and that the USS Yorktown, Kongo and Valiant entered service afterwards.
Another problem is that the USS Defiant is missing from the list completely. I can see no way to reconcile this with the canonical presence of the Defiant in 'The Tholian Web'.
If we take the twelve ships already established as Constitutions and add the Yorktown, Kongo and Valiant then we arrive at a total initial production run of fifteen, rather than the fourteen suggested above.
The second and fourth production runs are actually listed as being variants of the Constitutions - Mark IXA and IXB rather than simple Mark IX. Each has a class ship named, the USS Bonhomme Richard and the USS Achernar. The intent seems to be that these two batches are also 'Type I cruisers' with broadly similar capabilities to the Constitution class ships, but that there are differences between them. Just how different they may be is not specified.
|USS Enterprise||Existence canon. Survived TOS.||Throughout TOS|
|USS Constellation||Existence canon. Wrecked by the Doomsday Machine; destroyed by Kirk.||'The Doomsday Machine'|
|USS Defiant||Existence canon. Lost in interphase space.||'The Tholian Web'|
|USS Excalibur||Existence canon. Badly damaged by M-5; entire crew killed.||'The Ultimate Computer'|
|USS Hood||Existence canon. Survived TOS.||'The Ultimate Computer'|
|USS Lexington||Existence canon. Damaged by M-5; remained operational.||'The Ultimate Computer'|
|USS Potemkin||Existence canon. Survived TOS.||'The Ultimate Computer'|
|USS Exeter||Existence canon. Crew killed, ship intact.||'The Omega Glory'|
|USS Farragut||Canonically identified as a Starship.||'Obsession'|
|USS Republic||Canonically identified as a Starship.||'Court Martial'|
|USS Intrepid||Crew of 400 indicates that this vessel may be a Starship.||'The Immunity Syndrome'|
|USS Yorktown||TOS TM. Existence of ship is canon, but not Starship status - though Roddenberry quote concerning E-A formerly being Yorktown could indicate that it was a Starship. |
Would have entered service in late 2267 or early 2268.
|USS Constitution||TOS TM; existence implied by class name.||N/A|
|USS Valiant||TOS TM only. Would have entered service after late 2267.||N/A|
|USS Kongo||TOS TM only. Would have entered service after late 2267.||N/A|
Of the fifteen potential Constitution class vessels, the first eight listed above are positively identified by onscreen sightings. Two more, the Farragut and Republic, are almost certainly Constitutions. The USS Constitution is also almost certain to exist. The Intrepid is a strong possibility, while the timeline would allow the Yorktown to be considered a Constitution class if we assume a continual building program during TOS. The Valiant and Kongo are rather weak candidates for Constitution status, but again could have been built after Kirk's 'twelve like her in the fleet' comment.
|Yellow text = Canon source||Green text = Backstage source||Cyan text = Novel||White text = DITL speculation|
|Copyright Graham Kennedy||Page views : 270||Last updated : 1 Jan 1970|