Shuttlecraft Galileo is familiar to most fans in of the Original Series, but her story begins when the first episodes were being written. Writers and producers of STAR TREK longed for a shuttlecraft to add dramatic tension to stories, and Enterprise designer Matt Jefferies had even made a provision on the rear of the ship for hangar bay. But the production didn’t have the budget to create a space vehicle, so they reached out to interested parties who might build a shuttle.
AMT Corporation struck a deal for the rights to produce STAR TREK model kits, in exchange for delivering to Desilu a near full-sized shuttlecraft, the miniature that “flies,” and an interior set that could be used for filming from various angles.
Galileo was built by legendary hot rod designer Gene Winfield and his crew in AMT’s shop in Phoenix. It appeared in seven episodes, all filmed on the original STAR TREK soundstages. Despite being destroyed over and over on the series, Galileo survived and when filming ended was donated to a school for the blind in the Los Angeles area after the show wrapped in 1969.
But the long, strange journey of NCC-1701/7 was just beginning. A fan bought the 3/4-sized shuttle from the school and stored the Masonite prop in his Palos Verdes, California front yard for several years. Later, another fan bought Galileo and moved her to San Diego (where she sat rotting in the desert.) She was restored and shown at a mid-80’s fan convention, and then sold to a collector in Ohio who planned yet another restoration. That effort was never completed, and the ship disappeared.
The mystery of Galileo puzzled STAR TREK fans for over 20 years. Dedicated fans were using satellite imagery to locate the ship! But little was known until an auction house in Ohio announced it would sell Galileo in 2012.
Enter starship collector Adam Schneider, who won the auction. “I have been involved in collecting screen-used STAR TREK since the Christie's auction in 2006 where a great deal of material was released from studio warehouses. I focus on the spaceships and miniatures. By the time I see them, years after use, all need restoration. And then came Galileo! Buying Galileo was the chance of a lifetime to take this fallen star, bring her back to life, and do something wonderful for the TREK community. And while it was clear that Galileo was in trouble, truthfully we had no idea how much work was required.”
And a great deal of work was required. There was visible damage to the wood, and internal damage to the metal infrastructure which was not visible until after the bidding concluded. “All we had were pictures when bidding,” says the New York businessman and fan.
The restoration required special skills. Fortunately, Schneider and his wife Leslie found a unique set of craftsmen that restore boats -- perfect for restoring Galileo! They trucked the nearly 50 year old prop to Master Shipwrights in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey for a comprehensive restoration.
Schneider and his wife spent days on end supervising the painstaking restoration. Galileo was stripped to her steel “bones” and damage repaired. The shipwrights (more accustomed to working on seagoing than spacefaring vessels) used their skills and a lot of marine-grade plywood and fiberglass to bring Galileo back to life.
“The restoration took nine months, and disaster struck again when Galileo went through a a flood during Hurricane Sandy. But that wasn’t as bad as giant aliens. We were thrilled to have the whole STAR TREK community – including fans, prop collectors, and many from the production – come offer their help, providing bits and pieces from the original structure, sharing photographs, speculative blueprints, and working up publicity. We memorialized them on the shuttle.”
In fact, STAR TREK CONTINUES propmaster Will Smith even provided a replica ‘busy box’ that kept Spock occupied when fixing Galileo during multiple episodes”” says Schneider. “You’ll see him in the STAR TREK CONTINUES episode with Galileo doing exactly that!”
“But Galileo was far too large to ‘take home’ when done. You know, it’s the size of a bus! We always wanted her to be visible to the public. We solicited most of the U.S. Air and Space museums. However, in the end, it became clear that associating Galileo and STAR TREK with NASA in Houston -- the home of our country's manned space program -- would be ideal. It recognizes how STAR TREK contributed to the dreams of actual space travel, and inspired scientists, astronauts, and engineers. Galileo is now owned by NASA’s visitor center, Space Center Houston, which receives 750,000 visitors a year and has constructed a small ‘set’, as though she is on the shuttle bay of the Enterprise,” Schneider relays.
After nearly a half century, Schneider arranged for Galileo builder Gene Winfield to see what became of his handiwork. “He was thrilled that the fan community would appreciate his work enough to put this enormous time, effort, and resources into restoration. In fact, Galileo was featured in a recent book he authored on his career!”
Then came the chance to reuse Galileo on an online episode. “STAR TREK CONTINUES reached out to me with the idea of shooting with Galileo. Naturally, I had many concerns,” Schneider says. “If the shoot was only an excuse to show Galileo, then frankly I wasn’t interested. If it was to be a typical scene where a crewman uses the shuttle, then also I was not interested. But if it was a key scene where Galileo could appear in context – well THAT would be interesting. I had a long discussion with Vic Mignogna and the scene he had in mind was perfect.”
“I had not been previously involved with STAR TREK fan shows, so didn't know a great deal about how they were created. I went to visit the STAR TREK CONTINUES crew before committing. I became extraordinarily impressed with STAR TREK CONTINUES, including scripts, acting, special effects and most importantly the HEART that about 40 people put into shooting the episodes. It’s an amazing and dedicated crew – and one that I am proud to be associated with,” Schneider says.
“They also bribed me,” he says with a smile, “since I got to appear as one of the crewmen exiled on Galileo in STAR TREK CONTINUES’ third episode.”
“Shuttlecraft Galileo is on display for the indefinite future at Space Center. Any fan can see her and also get a tour of NASA Houston, which is an extraordinary opportunity. I'd recommend all visitors take their ‘Level 9’ tour that provides real behind the scenes access to NASA. I know that Space Center was delighted to have one of their new treasures featured in STAR TREK CONTINUES, and they are very, very happy that Galileo was put back on the screen and in a new STAR TREK adventure,” Schneider says proudly.