The space office was the first piece of hardware Andrew Probert helped design on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He told Starlog magazine (March 1980) that he inherited the basics from the work that had been prepared for the Star Trek: Phase II television series by Mike Minor, the pilot of which had been rewritten to become the first feature film.
Probert recalled that Richard Taylor, the movie’s original art director, “asked for something that was multi-leveled 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 complex could fabricate additional parts needed to repair or refurbish starships, although it seems that this requirement was either dropped or disregarded given how small the station turned out to be.
“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 Greg Tyler of Trekplace 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.”
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 liked to think of them as “flying offices”, an idea that evolved into the much smaller craft Scotty would steer toward the refit Enterprise in drydock.
Following The Motion Picture, the model was turned upside down and modified to become Regula I in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which had to come in on a tighter budget.
“We were given the task of making it look different,” Steve Gawley, who was the head of ILM’s model shop at the time, told Star Trek: The Magazine (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 end up in a number of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Perhaps most famously, the top section, without Probert’s botanical tanks, became Starbase 375 in Deep Space Nine.
Sources for this story include: Jörg Hillebrand and Bernd Schneider, “Redresses of the Orbital Office Complex,” Ex Astris Scientia; David Houston, “Andy Probert Talks about the Lost Designs of Star Trek The Motion Picture,” Starlog 32 (March 1980) 26-33, 63; Andrew Probert, “Space Office Complex,” Probert Designs; Greg Tyler, “Interview with Andrew Probert,” Trekplace, 2005; and Star Trek: The Magazine 3, #5 (September 2002). Artwork on this page courtesy of Andrew Probert.