The Enterprise gets most of the glory, but there are plenty of other ships in Starfleet. One of my favorites is the Excelsior, a ship that was meant to be the first evolution beyond the Constitution-class ships of the original Star Trek series.
The USS Excelsior (NCC-2000) was a prototype for a new class of starship. It entered service in the 2280s, toward the end of the Original Series era, in the movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. When Kirk brings the badly damaged Enterprise-A back to Earth Spacedock, he moors up next to the Excelsior. Kirk called the new ship Starfleet’s “great experiment.”
What made the Excelsior a “great experiment” was its transwarp drive. According to the Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual for the USS Enterprise, transwarp drive “relied on an extremely complicated set of equations that boosted the power of a conventional warp engine.” No canonical Star Trek work describes the system in any detail.
The transwarp was supposed to make the Excelsior the fastest ship in Starfleet, but the ship failed on its first trial run and was eventually rebuilt with a conventional warp engine.
After switching back to conventional warp drive, the Excelsior proved to be a capable starship design, spawning an entire class of identical vessels, including the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-B) seen in Star Trek: Generations.
The Excelsior herself went on to be captained by Hikaru Sulu. After a three-year mission cataloging gaseous planetary anomalies in the Bet Quadrant, Sulu took the Excelsior into Klingon territory to rescue his former shipmates Kirk and McCoy, who had been framed for the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon. These events played out in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Other Excelsior-class ships made brief appearances in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. By the 24th century, these ships were apparently the backbone of Starfleet and were only just being replaced by the larger Galaxy-class.
The Excelsior’s motto was “No matter where you go, there you are.”
The Excelsior had 32 decks, and was capable of saucer separation. Armament included Type 8 phaser emitters and fore and aft photon torpedo launchers.
The script for Search for Spock called for a ship that would make the Constitution-class Enterprise look old fashioned. The Excelsior was described as a “super starship” with lines similar to the Enterprise, “but she is clearly bigger, sleeker, and very new. She sits at her mooring like the new Queen of Space.”
The result is one of the best looking ships in Starfleet. The Excelsior’s low profile and elongated lines make it look like it’s at warp even when it’s standing still.
I always liked that design; it’s much less bulky than other Star Trek ships. I also think the name is kind of funny. I picture the crew carrying a bust of Al Gore around, the same way the USS Ronald Reagan carries a bust of the Gipper. I also like to imagine the captain yelling “Excelsior!” as the ship warps off into the unknown.