In 1964, everything that would become Star Trek as it is known today rested in the handful of typewritten pages that had convinced Desilu studios to enter into a three-year television development deal with Gene Roddenberry. Those pages described the mission of the U.S.S. Yorktown, a spaceship with a crew of 203 commanded by Robert T. April. Landing parties would be beamed down to planets by an energy-matter scrambler, stay in contact with the Yorktown on their telecommunicators, and protect themselves with Laser Beam weapons.

Though the terminology was still to be refined, the cornerstone of a billion-dollar entertainment franchise was solidly in place. And when NBC committed to ordering a pilot episode in June 1964, it was time to start building that franchise's foundation. As Star Trek producer Gene Coon said, "Gene created a totally new universe." Television being a visual medium, the question now was, what was this universe going to like like?

Today, Star Trek senior illustrator and technical consultant Rick Sternbach refers to the three filters that stand between any Star Trek designer and the blank page. First, and most important from the business side of the filmed entertainment industry, is the filter of Money. How much will a design cost to be translated into physical reality - or at least the illusion of physical reality - on screen?

Second is the filter of Practicality. Does a design look as if it can do what it is intended to do? Many artistic judgments come into play here. Does a weapon look theatening enough for the audience to realize it is a weapon? Is an alien machine too alien to understand, or too easy to identify and thus not alien enough?

The third filter is the one to which the audience most strongly reacts; History. This is the filter of all that has gone before in Star Trek. It is the visual continuity, sometimes strong, sometimes almost subliminal, which links the original television designs to those of the later movies and series. Though hundreds of artists have contributed to the refinement and evolution of this last filter over the past three decades, in the beginning there were two who wrote the first pages of that history: the art director assigned to the first Star Trek pilot, Pato Guzman, and his assistant, Walter Matthew Jefferies. Guzman left Desilu before the pilot began filming in October. Initially, he was replaced by Franz Bachelin, and then by Matt Jefferies, who became art director for the series.

As art director, he was given the assignment to design the Enterprise itself. His only guidelines were Roddenberry's firm list of what he did not want to see: not any rockets, nor jets, nor firestreams. The starship was not to look like a classic, and thus dated, science-fiction rocketship, but neither could it resemble anything that would too quickly date the design. Somewhere between the cartoons of the past and the reality of the present, Matt Jefferies had to give at a design of the future.

In 1980, the Star Trek Spaceflight Chronology by Stan and Fred Goldstein was published, illustrations provided by Rick Sternbach. Published to coincide with the release of The Motion Picture, the book covers the history of human spaceflight from the Sputnik to the upgraded Enterprise. Along the way, the reader is treated with an incredibly diversity of fictional events that fill the gaps between the 20th century and the era of Kirk. Note that these illustrations have long been outdated by Star Trek canon.

During the 21st and early 22nd century, sleeper ships were used by Earth as colony vessels. A sleeper ship is a starship designed for long-range transport of personnel using stasis technology. Typically a stage of technology used before the advent of warp drive, as missions covering interstellar distances frequently lasted many decades, the wide-scale use of such vessels was phased out with the advent of impulse and warp technologies.

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