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As of early 1987, when Star Trek: The Next Generation was in preproduction, two Federation Starfleet vessels named Enterprise had been established:
Star Trek: The Next Generation presented a new Enterprise: the Galaxy-class NCC-1701-D, launched about eighty years after the launch of the Enterprise-A. Fans would eventually nickname this ship the "Enterprise-D."
The eighty-year historical gap and the "three-step" jump in registry letters from the Enterprise-A and Enterprise-D suggested that two other starships had also born the name:
Star Trek: The Next Generation senior illustrator Andrew Probert's design duties included not only the exterior of the Enterprise-D, but also concepts for many of the ship's interiors. One of these interiors, the ship's conference lounge, featured a large, curved wall with brass-colored relief sculptures of past and present vessels called Enterprise. The ships depicted on the display included:
Probert provided the designs which were used as the basis for the relief sculptures. For the Enterprise-B, he chose the design of the USS Excelsior, which to that point had been featured in the third and fourth feature films. For the Enterprise-C, Probert provided an all-new design.
Probert's design for the Enterprise-C started with a painting that he had made several weeks earlier. The painting depicted a ship which would have been built between the heyday of the Excelsior and the time of the Enterprise-D.
Starting with the painting, Probert made a more detailed, profile view of the design, and refined it so that it represented a more direct evolutionary link between the Enterprise-B (Excelsior) and the Enterprise-D.
Probert devised the name "Ambassador" to represent ships of this new design.
Aside from the relief sculpture in the conference lounge set, Probert's concept for the Ambassador-class Enterprise-C never reached television screens. Probert left Star Trek: The Next Generation following the end of its first season, and when the Enterprise-C appeared in the third-season episode "Yesterday's Enterprise," it was reconceived by senior illustrator Rick Sternbach. This version of the ship, while quite impressive in its own right, bore only a passing resemblance to Probert's concept.
In 2007 Probert began to complete the design of his concept of the Ambassador, in order to make it available as one of his Concept Kits. On his Probert Designs web site, he began to share work-in-progress images of the design as it has evolved as a 3D model, which is being created using FormZ.
For the latest work-in-progress images of the Ambassador, visit Probert Designs' Ambassador Kit page. This page shows past images from that page. The images are posted here with the permission of Andrew Probert, who is the copyright holder.
The evolution of the Ambassador was discussed at length in a "Trek Tech" thread on TrekBBS. Many posters speculated on the function of various design elements. On September 18, 2007, this author, who posts as "FalTorPan," postulated a history of that ship and its sister, the Enterprise-C. This history is conjecture only, and is by no means definitive, but this author thought it would be fun to find a place in Star Trek's rich history for Andrew Probert's intriguing first take on the USS Ambassador and Enterprise-C. Below are excerpts from the TrekBBS post:
Okay... this ship has fired up my imagination. You have been warned.
Let's say that the USS Ambassador NX-10521 was launched in 2323, followed by the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-C in 2325. The Excelsior class is still a workhorse of the Federation Starfleet, although its basic design is 40 years old. The Galaxy class is 20 years from being a glint in anyone's eye, and another two decades from entering active service. Whatever the fate of the Enterprise-B, she served the Federation with distinction for 15-25 years.
With respect to the Federation, the Romulans have been incommunicado for about a dozen years. Difficult negotiations with the Klingons are ongoing. Maybe the Ambassador class was named in honor of continuing diplomatic efforts with the Klingons.
Probert's Ambassador in Star Trek's Chronology
Now... how do we "retcon" Probert's Ambassador design into established Trek continuity? We've never seen the actual USS Ambassador, so it's fair to assume that she always looked like Probert's design. Since we see a Probert version of the Enterprise-C as the half-model in the Enterprise-D's observation lounge, we might imagine that the ship had that configuration at the time of her launch. By 2344, the ship had been overhauled to the Sternbach configuration.
What led to the overhaul? Sometime well after 2325, but years before 2344 -- let's say 2338 -- perhaps the Enterprise-C was SDF-3ed in the line of duty -- caught off-guard and rammed by an enemy vessel -- perhaps a Tholian ship. Heavily damaged, the ship was nearly scrapped, but a new starship class was not yet ready to carry on the name Enterprise, so the ship was saved, but overhauled to a second, pre-existing variant of the Ambassador class. This variant, which first saw active service in 2325, is technologically equivalent to the previous variant, but is bulkier, less costly and perhaps sturdier. Launched in its second configuration, the Enterprise-C served her new captain, Rachel Garrett, through many adventures and discoveries until the ship's fateful encounter with four Romulan Warbirds near the Klingon outpost at Narendra III.
Starships of both major types of the Ambassador class continue to serve well into the 2380s and beyond.
Summary of Ambassador's History
2323 - Ambassador-class USS Ambassador NX-10521 launched in "Probert configuration"
2325 - Ambassador-class USS Enterprise NCC-1701-C launched in "Probert configuration"
2325 - Launch of first Ambassador-class starship in "Sternbach configuration." Ships of both configurations continue to be produced.
2338 - USS Enterprise heavily damaged in surprise attack. Ship is overhauled to "Sternbach configuration" due to resource limitations.
2344 - USS Enterprise falls to Romulan attackers while defending Klingon outpost at Narendra III.
What do you think? Any other ideas?
Special thanks to Andrew Probert for sharing his work-in-progress images and for allowing them to be published here. Thanks to David Nielsen for archiving the older work-in-progress images.