An American legend is being put to rest this weekend. A legend that goes by the name many of us are familiar with, Enterprise. The United States Navy has scheduled the inactivation for the USS Enterprise for December 1, 2012 with it’s official decommissioning to come within the next couple months. Hundreds will be on hand to watch as one of the country’s most famous and historical ships will be put out of service. Millions of Americans are familiar with the name Enterprise, and know of it as being a ship one way or another. While this current ship is the eighth U.S. ship to be named Enterprise, a significant fictional fan base relates the name to a spaceship, or a starship in the television/film series Star Trek. So either from real life or fantasy, we all can find some appreciation the name has given us.
Aside from the crowd who recognize the name from fictional references, those of us interested in American history, this most recent USS Enterprise may not be the most memorable U.S. ship named Enterprise. It’s predecessor, also called USS Enterprise, is easily considered the most honored ship of World War II, and possibly in the history of the Navy. But even prior to that one there were six other ships in the history of the United States Navy named Enterprise. The first was from the days of the Revolutionary War. Initially a British ship, it was captured by Benedict Arnold who renamed it Enterprise. Naming ships Enterprise wasn’t an uncommon practice at this time. The British have named several ships Enterprise, and the French Navy have had ships called Entreprenant (French word for Enterprising) at least 100 years before the first American ship was given the legendary name.
It wasn’t just the eighth U.S. ship, the only nuclear powered ship in the fleet, or the seventh ship, the heroic ship from WWII, or even all the illustrious history of the name Enterprise that helped the name become legendary. The biggest boost came from science fiction. Writer Gene Roddenberry created the television series Star Trek. Millions of fans for over 50 years have come to know the name of the Starship Enterprise and it’s crew led by Captain, James T. Kirk. You really don’t have to be a fan to know about the series as it’s firmly taken it’s place in American pop culture. The image of the ship is synonymous with the science fiction genre. I wouldn’t be surprised if more people knew of the name Enterprise because of Star Trek rather than those who know it from the two dozen officially commissioned government ships throughout history. There was even talk of Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, attending the inactivation ceremony of the real USS Enterprise.
Not for nothin’ but as we say goodbye to one ship named Enterprise, when should we expect to say hello to a new ship named Enterprise? And no, I’m not just talking make believe. The eighth USS Enterprise has been with us for over 50 years. It has lasted through all of our country’s major conflicts from the Cuban Missle Crisis to the war in Afghanistan. One of America’s most advanced vessels for it’s time, will we go further? As technology improves who knows what the future holds. There was once even a space shuttle named Enterprise. It wasn’t used for any signficant missions to space, but perhaps the most significant mission has yet to be undertaken. The tagline for the Star Trek series started with “Space, the final frontier,” and ended with “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Maybe the next Enterprise should make history and embark on places we have yet to go.