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Pen & Ink Starships: Kobayashi Maru

IMG_4264.jpg (606055 bytes) IMG_4262.jpg (698464 bytes)

More pictures are forthcoming...

Well, here we sit in 2009 with a shiny new Star Trek movie - fun, though IMO somewhat lacking in the dignity department. And in that movie we see the young brash-hole Kirk taking his "creative" 3rd run at that bane of cadets, the no-win Kobayashi Maru test. And watching the on-viewscreen space action some friends and I came to think... what little we could see of that Kobayashi Maru looks awfully familiar. Come to find out, there's a good reason why it looked familiar.

Set the way-back machine to 1982... The Wrath of Khan was in movie theaters and Trek's reputation was being restored after the... oh, let's be charitable and call it "cerebral" first ST movie. And one of the tempting tidbits in TWOK was that brief data screen about this training exercise ship called Kobayashi Maru, a "3rd-Class Neutronic Fuel Carrier, 300 passengers, crew 81." I can't recall how many repeat showings of the movie I went to just to jot down the stats displayed briefly onscreen. Hey, this was waaay before you could sneak your phone into a theater to take pictures. Once the video tape of the movie came out then I could at least photograph the TV screen. And after that, walk 10 miles to and from work in the blinding snow, and it's uphill both ways.

Late '82 and into 1983... I started getting ideas about what this ship might look like, and so the scribbling began - a shape here, another there. Eventually a concept emerged of a "tramp steamer" sort of starship that made runs from planet to planet, mainly  hauling fuel, but also lading cargo, passengers, and whatever else would pay the bills. Perhaps even the "Astral Queen" mentioned in TOS' Conscience of the King  episode was of this class. I was even rolling a few thoughts around of fan-fic stories about the wacky, mad-cap misadventures of the KM's rogueish master, Kojiro Vance. Smuggler. Scoundrel. Oh wait, now we're getting into Han Solo territory.

Well, the thoughts and sketches finally emerged as a set of draft drawings. I had the dimensions of the ship from the data screen, which accounts for the somewhat cramped look of my design. I envisioned a civilian Federation - not Starfleet! - ship, though with the hallmark saucer / nacelle feel to it. The saucer housed passengers, crews, and lots of cargo, tankage, and such. A small secondary hull housed deflectors. Outboard, shielded pontoons carried the neutronic fuel tanks - envisioning this as some sort of nasty, fissionable, fast-neutron radionuclide material, I wanted it some distance away from the main hull and easily jettisonable in case those fast-neutrons got going too fast. Warp engines - big, old, and klunky, definitely not your sleek new Starfleet style. After all, you don't see SR-71 engines on a Boeing cargo plane (yes, FASA, I'm dissing your monopod "Lotus Flower" here).

And after some communication with Todd Guenther of Starstation Aurora, we came to a publication agreement. So from there, it was on to the drawings - got out the French curves, rulers, blue pencil, technical pens, white-out, dry-transfer lettering. Were talkin' BC drafting tech here - Before Computers.

So, what's the good reason the new movie's Kobi looked familiar? Well, it turns out that during his tenure working for JJ's Trek movie, John Eaves was given a few old bits of reference material to work up Kobi design concepts, and one of those was a set of my 1983 prints. (See his blog post at, and be sure to read his blog for lots of specTrekular coolness ) So, thanks John, and a hat-tip to the movie's design team for letting some "fanon" work its way a bit into the canon. I guess based on this, I can argue that of the various "prime" timeline Kobi concepts, mine's the top contender for being the real Kobi. And now I gotta go buy bigger hats...


The Kobayashi-Maru has a long history starting in the early 23rd century as part of the Astral Starlines fleet. Astral Starlines was one of the first commercial star travel ventures in the still-young United Federation of Planets. The centerpieces of the company�s fleet were its 5 Astral Royal class ships, Astral Countess, Astral Duchess, Astral Empress, Astral Princess, and Astral Queen. By the mid 23rd century, faster warp drives were quickly rendering Astral�s fleet obsolete and the Royals were sold or given less prestigious duties. Two were still in service for Astral later in the 23rd century, the Astral Queen and Astral Duchess and still carried primarily passengers on the lesser-known routes in the Federation. The other 3 were sold off to other operators. Of these, Astral Countess was largely gutted and refitted as a commercial cargo and fuel transport, renamed Kobayashi-Maru. Most of the large stateroom decks in the upper hull were removed and the open interior was fitted for bulk solid and liquid tankage. The smaller stateroom decks upper aft and the startop lounge became the main passenger facilities. With the addition of supporting structures and massive tankage armatures the ship was rated for hauling radiologic fuels up to 3rd class neutronics.