On December 1st, 2012, the United States Navy deactivated the nuclear powered aircraft carrier CVN-65, more commonly known as the USS Enterprise. Commissioned in 1961, the Enterprise is the eighth USN ship to carry the name, and has seen action in conflicts around the world for 50 years. When she is formally decomissioned in March of 2013 (when the last of her nuclear fuel is removed), she will have been in service for 51 consecutive years, making her the longest serving carrier in the United States Navy.
The USS Enterprise had her keel laid at the Newport News Shipyards in 1958, was first launched on September 24th, 1960, and was officially commissioned by the Navy on November 25th, 1961. After her shakedown cruise, her first major assignment lived up to her spacefaring namesake: she acted as the tracking station for Friendship 7, the Project Mercury space capsule that carried Lieutenant Colonel John Glenn on his first orbital flight.
Her first combat deployment came during the Cuban Missle Crisis of October 1962. The Enterprise, along with four other Second Fleet carriers, formed the backbone of the air blockade of Cuba.
In November 1965 the Enterprise was transferred to the Pacific 7th Fleet, and would spend the majority of the next decade in east and southeast Asia. In 1973, the Enterprise returned to Puget Sound Naval Base for a refit to accommodate the newly developed F-14 Tomcat before returning to the Pacific. By the time she returned to Newport News for a refit, she had deployed a total of 12 times to the Pacific. In May 2006, Enterprise entered her last combat deployment in the Persian Gulf.
The Enterprise has her own place in pop culture history as well. She was the setting of the movie Top Gun. Directors filmed actual flight operations for many of the fill scenes, although several of the interior scenes were filmed aboard the USS Ranger. It was also the setting for Star Trek IV, though again, most of the scenes were filmed aboard the Ranger due to the Enterprise being on deployment.
Most famously of all, the Enterprise is said to have inspired Gene Roddenberry. Many of the original documents for the show referred to Star Trek‘s ship as the USS Yorktown, but the Enterprise, being at the forefront of Naval Technology of the time, was said to have inspired Roddenberry to rename one of the most famous ships in pop culture history.
At the end of Star Trek Generations, Captain Picard states that “History should never forget the name Enterprise.” And in an unintended moment of forsight, at the decommissioning ceremony, it was announced that the next Gerald Ford class carrier, CVN-80, will be the ninth ship to carry the name Enterprise.