What was the nature of the Enterprise's five year mission?

Was it ever clarified what defined the five year period? Was the Enterprise sent out on a long voyage from Earth and five years is how long it would be before they returned to Earth? Would the current crew work together for five years and then be broken and given new assignments? Would the ship itself be decommissioned and replaced after five years? My question is basically what event was going to happen in the fifth year that was substantially different than what happened in the fourth year or the sixth year? (ST:TNG avoided this issue by saying they were on a “continuing mission” with no set time period.)

On a related note, the Enterprise was already in the midst of its mission when the series began (unlike ST: The Next Generation or ST: Enterprise). Was it ever established what year of its mission it was in?

The number of seasons they hoped the show would be renewed by the network?

Seriously, it must have been written early, right? I doubt the writers thought it about it that hard when they wrote the original intro. I think any ideas we might have would be - is the word retconning?

I guess you’re asking about whether there was any elaboration in the original series. I can’t remember any, they were usually fairly self-contained episodes, not much broader context.

I would have assumed that in five years they’d return for crew rotation and a possible reassignment of mission. It’s just the tour of duty length.

show was canceled after year 2 but a big letter writing campaign saved it for 1 more year. Which turned out to be important since back then shows with less than 3 seasons were unlikely to get shown in reruns via syndication. No reruns and that might have been the end of Star Trek - no movies, no more shows, etc.

Also, one could fanwank that the Constitution-class ships were designed to operate for about five years before needing to return to starport for major repairs and retrofits. The more advanced Galaxy-class (TNG) could probably independently maintain it’s systems a lot longer.

I wouldn’t even call that a fanwank. It’s not like it was a colony ship never expected to return.

The Gene Roddenberry novelization for Star Trek: The Motion Picture makes it clear that the ship would remain in deep space and was not expected to return to Earth for at least five years. When it did, there was major crew turnover and, as it happens (although this was not planned when they first set out), the ship then underwent a major overhaul and rebuild. Something that never really came across in the movies but did in the book was that Capt. Kirk was just a bit emotionally messed up by the stress of five years’ responsibility for his ship and crew, and for the losses suffered on his watch. We joke about redshirts’s short life expectancies, but Kirk was grieving and paid a price in mental health for those deaths.

I’m not sure how much deep psychological analysis of that alien skirt-chaser I want to get into.

At the rate they were lost i just assumed he reconstituted replacements out of dried embryos like Sea Monkeys or replicated clones. I’ve always thought you could set a game of Paranoia on an Enterprise-like scenario complete with control by “the Computer”.

Oh, I don’t know; there are a lot of psychic depths to plumb there, espeically in the original show before the original movies reinvented him as this pretty simple-minded maverick captain and the J.J. Abrams movies turned him into a futuristic frat brah.


The “Five Year Mission” (sounds like “five year plan”. I’ve always said the Communists won WWIII in the Star Trek universe. but I digress) seems like it should be on the edges of the Federation space for five whole years. Maybe there would be resupply and crew rotations from “frontier” star bases. But no real return to the inner systems. You were supposed to use Hornblower as the role model. Long durations away from home (and the chain of command), which is why Kirk had so much leeway.

Of course, that got thrown out in the first season. If you’re close enough to travel back to earth in 1968 accidentally, you aren’t that far away to begin with. And they don’t recall you from the edge of known space to ferry diplomats around the central systems.

I’d more categorize what the Enterprise did as “troubleshooting”. When you have an undefined problem, send in Kirk. Planet killing weapons, wayward asteroids, giant space amoebas, loss of contact with planets, missing ships, spacial anomalies, non-corporeal killers. They live for that shit!

I assume that the writers called the voyage of exploration a five year mission because the most famous voyage of exploration of all time was a five year mission–nothing deeper than that.

From the series original 1964 format, reproduced in The Making of Star Trek (Whitfield and Roddenberry, 1968):

*(Excerpted from orders to Captain Robert T April) …

IV. Nature and duration of mission:
Galaxy exploration and investigation;
5 years.

V. You will patrol the Ninth Quadrant, beginning with
Alpha Centauri and extending to the outer Pinial
Galaxy limit.

VI. Consistent with the limitations of your vessel and
equipment, you will confine your landings and
contacts to Class “M” planets approximating Earth-
Mars conditions.

VII. You will conduct this patrol to accomplish primarily:
(a) Earth security, via exploration of intelligence and
social systems capable of a galaxial threat, and
(b) Scientific investigation to add to the Earth’s body
of knowledge of alien life forms and social systems, and
© Any required assistance to the several Earth colonies
in this quadrant, and the enforcement of appropriate
statutes affecting such Federated commerce vessels
and traders as you may contact in the course of your

The same kind of mission performed by the British Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The “Five-Year Limit” was apparently a rotational thing, since the range of the *Enterprise *is given as “18 years at light-year velocity,” whatever that means.

What it means is, Hollywood writers didn’t understand science very well back then. It seems that is still true.

I’ll bet someone from the future would know what it means.

Yes, Just Asking Questions’ post just demonstrated that.

I have to say - I’d assume not. Is it really a well known (or significant) fact that Darwin’s trip lasted 5 years?

“It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in five warp speeds!”

Yes? (See last posts on this page.)

In 1966 understanding that you couldn’t go faster than light by hitting the accelerator pedal harder was way advanced. Space 1899 never figured it out, after all.

Anyhow, it is clear that the speed of the Enterprise is whatever is required by the script.

My counter-cite is that I’m an evolutionary biologist, and if asked I would not have known the exact number of years; nor thought it significant.

From that thread:

It’s the line below the main title (what do you call that?) on the book. But if you google Five Year Circumnavigation without quote marks none of the hits are Darwin; and if you google with quote marks (specifically for the complete phrase), some hits are just picking up on the extended book title. I can’t find any Google hits for that phrase other than that book cover.

If Colibri knows that the extended name of the book includes that phrase, I will concede your point!