The full-sized mock-up of the Galileo shuttlecraft, which made its on-screen debut in a 1967 episode of the "Star Trek" original series, is being restored at a boat-refurbishment shop in New Jersey.
The fictional Galileo originally served as a small transport vessel for Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock and other crew members of the USS Enterprise, ferrying the intrepid space explorers to strange new worlds.
By the end of the summer, when the craft is set to go on public display, its new mission will be to enchant and inspire guests at the NASA visitor center, bridging the gap between science fiction and science fact.
"Star Trek" inspired all kinds of people to go work on the space program, said Adam Schneider, a management consultant in New Jersey who bought the model at an auction last June. "It was a more mature vision of what we could do and become with space travel," he told The Galveston County Daily News (http://bit.ly/13cDXpQ).
The 20-foot prop was originally built for "Star Trek" in 1966, and despite several episodes featuring the spacecraft's fiery destruction, appeared on the show well into 1969, when the series was cancelled.
The Galileo repeatedly changed hands, moving from a braille institute for young students in Los Angeles to a front lawn in Palos Verdes, Calif., before being sold and restored ahead of a "Star Trek" convention in 1986.
Its journey gets a bit murkier after that, as other efforts to restore and display the ship ended in failure.
For more than 20 years, the Galileo was "lost in the wild," and the mystery of its location fueled endless speculation among "Star Trek" fans online.
Schneider, a lifelong "Star Trek" enthusiast who has collected and restored props from the franchise since 2006, said the Galileo popped up on his radar in June, when the long-lost shuttle appeared at an auction.
Schneider and his wife, Leslie, paid about $70,000 for the model, sight-unseen. His initial reaction on seeing the condition of the ship? "What is this hunk of junk?"
For help, he enlisted Alec Peters, a "Star Trek" archivist and blogger who manages a massive collection of props and costumes from the franchise. Schneider also consulted with the craft's original builder, Gene Winfield, who is now 85 years old.
Original blueprints for the model disappeared long ago, so Schneider and crew improvised, using fan input and old images to help put the craft back together.
He took the disintegrating Galileo to Master Shipwrights in Atlantic Highlands, N.J.
"These are master European craftsmen who work on 50-year-old boats," Schneider said.
The work has been extensive: The craft's original metal frame remains in place, but almost everything else, including the wood paneling, had to be replaced.
Restoration work began late last year on a "wing and a prayer," but the crew is now applying the last few coats of paint, and Schneider hopes to wheel the ship out of the shop in the next week or two.
"It's in the best shape it has ever been in," he said.
He had always planned to donate the finished model to a museum of some sort for the public to enjoy, and said Space Center Houston would make the best home for the Galileo.
Space Center Houston spokesman Jack Moore said the craft will be on display by the end of the summer, and will likely be placed in the center's Zero-G Diner, which already features a science fiction motif.
He said the craft was a great way to bridge the gap between fiction and fact without blurring the line between the two.
Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, http://www.galvnews.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.