Farewell to Old Ships

The USS Enterprise is setting sail for the last time.

Damn. It hurts just to say those words.

But in this case, I’m not talking about one last voyage for Kirk and the crew of good old NCC-1701. No, I’m talking about the final deployment of the United States aircraft carrier Enterprise, CVN-65.

After fifty-one years of service, it is scheduled to be decommissioned in December of this year. The Enterprise was the world’s first nuclear aircraft carrier, and it is a unique design. In some respects, it was a testbed for America’s nuclear navy, and it pointed the way to many improvements found in the successor Nimitz class. Much like the fictional ships to follow her, she set the standard for things to come as well as a number of records that still stand. Seeing her go makes me sad.

But I shouldn’t surprised by that. As an SF fan, I’m used to becoming emotionally attached to ships and stations. I think about the various Star Trek incarnations of the Enterprise, the Millennium Falcon, the Galactica, the Babylon 5 station, Serenity, the Black Pearl, even the old Space Battleship Yamato from anime, and they all give that warm and fuzzy feeling of an old friend, loyal and true to the end. And I think about how much it tore me up inside when some of them met their ends, and I can almost say that I grieved for them.

But why? In addition to be completely made up, they weren’t even people. They were inanimate chucks of metal and wiring. They never had sentience. They never made a decision. Apart from the occasional voice interface, they never even had a line.

They had all the character of plywood and paint.

And yet they were so much more. They did have character. They had quirks and failings, but they also had strength and resolve. The Falcon’s touchy hyperdrive was a pain in the ass, but you always knew she was going to come through for us. The Galactica was old and falling apart, but she held our hopes like precious air. And who didn’t cry at least a little when the Enterprise gave her last full measure of devotion to save her skeleton crew?

I suppose just as we let some of those fictional people into our monkeyspheres, we let their ships in as well. The Enterprise was real to them, and so it became real to us.

So even though I’ve never known anyone aboard the real USS Enterprise, I’ve been attached enough to her fictional successors to feel a little sad seeing her go.

Farewell, faithful friend, farewell.