Long-lost first USS Enterprise model is returned to 'Star Trek' creator Gene Roddenberry's son

DALLAS — The first model of the USS Enterprise — used in the opening credits of the original “Star Trek” television series — has boldly gone back home, returning to creator Gene Roddenberry’s son decades after it went missing.

The model’s disappearance sometime in the 1970s had become the subject of lore, so it caused a stir when it popped up on eBay last fall. The sellers quickly took it down, and then contacted Dallas-based Heritage Auctions to authenticate it. Last weekend, the auction house facilitated the model’s return.

Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment, said he’s thrilled to have the model that had graced the desk of his father, who died in 1991 at age 70.

“This is not going home to adorn my shelves,” Roddenberry said. “This is going to get restored and we’re working on ways to get it out so the public can see it and my hope is that it will land in a museum somewhere.”

Heritage’s executive vice president, Joe Maddalena, said the auction house was contacted by people who said they’d discovered it a storage unit, and when it was brought into their Beverly Hills office, he and a colleague “instantly knew that it was the real thing.”

They reached out to Roddenberry, who said he appreciates that everyone involved agreed returning the model was the right thing to do. He wouldn’t go into details on the agreement reached but said “I felt it important to reward that and show appreciation for that.”

Maddalena said the model vanished in the 1970s after Gene Roddenberry loaned it to makers of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” which was released in 1979.

“No one knew what happened to it,” Rod Roddenberry said.

The 3-foot (0.91-meter) model of the USS Enterprise was used in the show’s original pilot episode as well as the opening credits of the resulting TV series, and was the prototype for the 11-foot (3-meter) version featured in the series’ episodes. The larger model is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

The original “Star Trek” television series, which aired in the late 1960s, kicked off an ever-expanding multiverse of cultural phenomena, with TV and movie spinoffs and conventions where a fanbase of zealous and devoted Trekkies can’t get enough of memorabilia.

This USS Enterprise model would easily sell for more than $1 million at auction, but really “it’s priceless,” Maddalena said.

“It could sell for any amount and I wouldn’t be surprised because of what it is,” he said. “It is truly a cultural icon.”

Roddenberry, who was just a young boy when the model went missing, said he has spotty memories of it, “almost a deja vu.” He said it wasn’t something he’d thought much about until people began contacting him after it appeared on eBay.

“I don’t think I really, fully comprehended at first that this was the first Enterprise ever created,” he said.

He said he has no idea if there was something nefarious behind the disappearance all those decades ago or if it was just mistakenly lost, but it would be interesting to find out more about what happened.

“This piece is incredibly important and it has its own story and this would be a great piece of the story,” Roddenberry said.

Thankfully, he said, the discovery has cleared up one rumor: That it was destroyed because as a young boy, he’d thrown it into a pool.

“Finally I’m vindicated after all these years,” he said with a laugh.

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