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Lower Decks changes Star Trek spaceship canon in a big way

Is the Cerritos actually LARGER than the Enterprise? Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan explains.

Everyone knows that the USS Cerritos is tiny. In Star Trek: Lower Decks, we’re following a little starship assigned to less-than-glamorous missions. The name of the series telegraphs this idea clearly — the Starfleet officers in the show are on a lower tier than the famous Rikers, Siskos, and Janeways of the other shows. And so, the California-class starships are obviously diminutive relative to the more famous USS Titan or USS Enterprise — right?

Well, an officially licensed forthcoming Star Trek book presupposes that maybe the USS Cerritos is bigger than Picard’s USS Enterprise-E. How can this be? Is the Cerritos actually huge? How can the Cerritos be BIGGER than the Enterprise?

Inverse got on the phone with Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan and contacted Hero Collector’s Ben Robinson to sort it all out. Here’s the truth about why starships are the size they are in contemporary Star Trek canon. Mild spoilers ahead for Lower Decks Season 1, but ZERO spoilers for Season 2.

Is the flagship of the fleet smaller than the workhorse of the fleet?Paramount Pictures/Paramount+

On August 24, Hero Collector will publish the revised version of the book Starships: 2294-The Future, which, as its title suggests, dives deep into the technical specifications of various Starfleet ships from the late 23rd century (pre- Next Generation) to the 32nd century (Discovery Season 3). Sandwiched right in the middle are all the ships from the end of the 24th century, including a few ships from Picard (2399) and Lower Decks (2380-2381).

And in one size comparison chart, the USS Cerritos is listed at 794 meters long while the USS Enterprise-E (from First Contact) is listed at 685 meters long. This is not a misprint. The Cerritos also appears larger (at least in length) than the Enterprise-E in this size comparison chart. Is this right?

Turns out, the size of Star Trek starships is often calculated after the fact by counting the number of windows on the hull. Ben Robinson, editor and author at Hero Collector, is also responsible for creating scale models of all the Trek ships. He explained the size calculations like this: “It’s based on the fact that there are three rows of windows on the saucer rim.”

Robinson reveals that long-time Trek designer Mike Okuda, who worked on the “Master Systems Display for Lower Decks,” had initially come up with a much larger figure for the Cerritos, “an overall length of about 2,605 feet.” But Robinson explains, “he was told the producers wanted the Cerritos to be a little smaller than the Enterprise-D. So maybe the Cerritos has very small windows?”

Look at all those windows.Paramount+

Even though the Enterprise-D was the ship before the Enterprise-E, that Galaxy-class ship was slightly bigger than the sleeker Sovereign-class ship that followed it. Still, saying that the Cerritos is only “a little” smaller than the massive Enterprise-D feels shocking.

“You caught us!” Mike McMahan tells Inverse. “Well, look, those dimensions are slightly off. It’s a very nerdy reason, and I’ll tell you why. The first season CG budget didn’t let us do the windows the size we wanted to. If you extrapolate by window size and deck size, the ship is a totally different size than it actually is. [Hero Collector] does great work, so that’s totally on us.”

This still doesn’t answer the question, if the Cerritos is a little smaller than the massive Enterprise-D, does that mean it’s actually huge?

“The Cerritos is bigger than you think it is because the nacelles are really long,” McMahan explains. “But, the amount of people on it is about what you think. It doesn’t have 1,000 people on it. When you see the Enterprise-D, you’re like, ‘wow, this is a city.’”

The Cerritos might be big, but it’s still a scrappy spaceship.Paramount+

Indeed, the new book suggests that although the Enterprise-D was 641 meters long, it had 42 decks covering 3.5 million square meters. We don’t know how many decks the Cerritos has – officially, but McMahan makes it clear, “the length of it is long, but it doesn’t have as many decks as the Enterprise-D.”

McMahan says the actual size of the Cerritos is, of course, bigger than the show implies, but part of that is because the narrative has to maintain a balance with the in-universe specs.

“You don’t want to frame the Cerritos, as a character, as this huge ship. But when you get into the technical manuals, you want it to make sense. But you also want to tell the story on the screen,” McMahan says. “And the story on the screen is the Cerritos is the scrappy underdog. California-class ships are scrappy underdogs. That said, the actual physical space of it, when you line it up and count the windows, is a little bit bigger than you realize. But at heart, it’s a scrappy underdog.”

Mike McMcMahn says: “When animate things in space, anything is the size you want depending on where it is and where the camera is.”Paramount+

So, how can the Cerritos be so big but have a much smaller crew? It turns out, McMahan’s answer makes a lot of sense when you look at how much space there is between the saucer section and the engineering hull.

“The biggest part of the Cerritos is that the warp core in engineering is huge compared to the Enterprise-D. And it's cavernous,” McMahan explains. Essentially, because “the Cerritos is an engineering ship,” McMahan feels its framework is not super-robust but built around the large warp core, making the ship “like a tugboat with a big engine.”

This is why Cerritos might appear long; those warp nacelles are extra long. And there’s a lot of empty space in between its parts, primarily because of its engineering section. But it’s not as densely packed with people and stuff as something like the Enterprise-E or the Enterprise-D. Ben Robinson agrees, saying, “The Cerritos is whatever size Mike says it is.”

So, how about those windows? Will we see different windows on the USS Cerritos in Season 2 of Lower Decks? In Star Trek canon, even changing window size is a spoiler.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 hits Paramount+ on August 12.

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