The orbital office complex in Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The Design and Reuse of the Orbital Office Complex

The space office was the first piece of hardware that Andrew Probert was asked to contribute to as an illustrator for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He told Starlog magazine in March 1980 that he inherited the basics from the work that had been prepared for the Star Trek: Phase II television series, the pilot episode of which was rewritten to become the first feature film.

Probert recalled that Richard Taylor, the movie’s original art director, “asked for something that was multileveled and complex” and that he “was shooting for something logical that would work within the established boundaries of Starfleet technology.”

At his website, Probert adds that the station was intended to have the capacity of “assembling spaceships from prefabricated elements ‘beamed’ to its location.” It therefore made sense to him that the facility could fabricate additional parts needed to repair or refurbish ships although it would seem that this requirement was either dropped or disregarded for it’s difficult to imagine starships being built at what is rather small a station.

Space office concept art by Andrew Probert
Space office concept art by Andrew Probert

“What we ended up with,” said Probert in the Starlog interview, “was, from top to bottom: The dockyard control tower, a hydroponic section, relaxation level, office/domestic level, variable gravity research wheel, factory and power levels. The power level and shaft at the bottom were eventually dropped.”

Probert told Trekplace‘s Greg Tyler in 2005 that the cylinders protruding from the top of the complex were designed to be “botanical tanks, so you could grow fruits and vegetables without needing soil and that in turn would help supply your oxygen as well as some of the station’s food.”

Probert's "flying office" design
Probert’s “flying office” design

The travel pods which Probert designed in conjunction with the space office were initially to be “shaped exactly like the office units,” he writes at his site, “and, when docked, would be indistinguishable from them.” Gene Roddenberry evidently liked to think of them as “flying offices” at first; an idea that evolved into the much smaller craft that Scotty eventually and famously steered toward the refit Enterprise in drydock.

Regula One space station
The Regula I space station in The Wrath of Khan

Following The Motion Picture, the model was turned upside down and modified to become the Regula I base in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan which had to come in on a tighter budget that the first film. “We were given the task of making it look different,” recalled Steve Gawley, who was head of ILM’s model shop at the time the second film was produced, in an interview with Star Trek: The Magazine 3, 5 (September 2002). “We took it apart and put it upside down and then reattached some of the outer pods in a different way.” Another modification his company made was adding an animated sequence of lights to the hangar bay.

The miniature would subsequently end up in a number of television episodes for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Perhaps most famously, the top section, without Probert’s botanical tanks, became Starbase 375 in four Season Six episodes of Deep Space Nine.

Bernd Schneider and Jörg Hillebrand have chronicled the full production history of the orbital office complex at Ex Astris Scientia. All the artwork on this page is courtesy of Andrew Probert.

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