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Vger ship
The V'Ger vessel
Nature: Vessel enclosed in energy cloud
Power: Twelfth power
Origin: Earth and Unknown
Diameter: Surrounding energy cloud diameter of two astronomical units, equal to that of the Earth's orbit
Armaments: Plasma weapons

The massive entity that called itself V'Ger (also called Vejur or The Intruder) was one of the most extraordinary lifeforms ever encountered by the United Federation of Planets. It generated enormous levels of power and threatened Earth with destruction until it found a way to evolve.

Approaching Federation space

Initial contact

First detected when passing through Klingon territory in 2273, V'Ger was unlike anything that Starfleet had ever encountered. Its initial appearance, that of a vast, luminous cloud capable of emitting enormous amounts of energy, was described as a "twelfth-power energy field", a scale beyond the energy-generation capacity of even "thousands of starships". As it traversed their space, the Klingons dispatched three K't'inga-class cruisers, led by the IKS Amar, to investigate. After approaching the outermost edges of the cloud, the Klingons fired photon torpedoes at it, to no effect. They continued their assault, but began a retreat as each of their torpedoes seemingly "vanished", and during the retreat, the vessels in the wolfpack began to be eliminated by powerful, spherically-shaped "bolts" of plasma energy emerging from within the cloud. This attack, while occurring within Klingon space, was monitored by Starfleet's Epsilon IX communications station, which was in close proximity to the then-disputed Federation-Klingon border, and was able to intercept communications between the Amar fleet and the Klingon High Command.

Shortly after the elimination of the Klingon vessels, the cloud passed into Federation space near the Epsilon IX station, which was able to perform limited scans on it, although most of its sensor sweeps were reflected back. The station crew was able, however, to determine that it measured a diameter in excess of two astronomical units, or more than 299.195 million kilometers, and that there was a null reading at the heart of the entity, indicating a solid form or vessel of some kind. Unfortunately, V'Ger appeared to interpret Epsilon IX's scans as a hostile act, and eliminated the station in the same manner as it had the Klingon vessels.

Threatening Earth

With the cloud just 54 hours away from Earth, Starfleet dispatched the only starship within interception range, the newly refitted USS Enterprise, to determine both what it was and how to stop it if possible. When the Enterprise arrived at the cloud's coordinates, it determined that the entity had an energy output surpassing that of thousands of starships.

By assuming a non-threatening posture, the Enterprise was able to deeply penetrate the cloud surrounding V'Ger and begin to gather information. During this critical time, however, the starship was cut off from all communication with Starfleet. As V'Ger entered the Sol system, spherical energy "bolts" similar to those that had destroyed the Klingons and the Epsilon IX station, only vastly more powerful, were launched by the entity. The energy spheres proceeded into courses that would place them into equidistant orbits around the planet, at which point it was predicted Earth's entire surface would be devastated.

Making contact

The Enterprise tried to make contact with V'Ger, but all linguacode messages were ignored, and it became apparent that the object at the heart of the cloud was unable to comprehend the hailing signals. It was determined that the intruder communicated on a frequency of more than one million megahertz (over one terahertz) and that, at such a high rate of speed, an entire message lasted only a millisecond.

Aside from the plasma energy spheres, V'Ger had other, less destructive means of gathering data. It scanned the Enterprise with a plasma-energy beam that gave some of the crew an electric shock, but otherwise left people unharmed. However, the same beam removed the Deltan navigator of the Enterprise, Lieutenant Ilia.

V'Ger was able to analyze Ilia in amazing detail, at least down to the cellular level. It then constructed an extremely accurate bio-mechanical replica of her, which acted as a probe. This device was such a good copy of the original that it even had her memory patterns. They were, however, suppressed and the Ilia probe had only rudimentary knowledge of humanoid behavior, presumably reflecting V'Ger's own level of experience; the probe required considerable education to act as liaison between V'Ger and the crew of the Enterprise.

Physical aspects and organization

"It could hold a crew of... tens of thousands."
"Or a crew of a thousand, ten miles tall."
- Uhura and Leonard McCoy, upon observation of V'Ger

Structure and layout

USS Enterprise approaches V'Ger's cloud

The USS Enterprise makes contact with the intruder

Surrounded by layer upon layer of cloud formations, the vessel aspect of V'Ger was enormous, with even the largest starship seeming microscopic in comparison. Its overall dimensions are never given in the film but the novelization specifies the craft as being seventy-eight kilometers in length and displacing six million times the amount of space as Enterprise.

Roughly cylindrical in shape, the construction of the exterior and interior of the vessel was mostly of an axially symmetric nature, with the axis generally running from "bow" to "stern", but with few indications as to its nature or purposes. Portions of the outer hull seem to have been composed of energy rather than matter. Organic in appearance, despite harboring no biological lifeforms, the interior was multi-chambered, and contained circular apertures that could be closed or opened to prevent or allow passage from one section of the vessel to the next. The most prominent of these apertures measured in excess of one kilometer wide. As of the late 24th century, it remains by far the largest single space vessel ever encountered by the Federation.

In one area of the vessel there was a three-dimensional data storage facility. This stored representations of all data collected by V'Ger. The plasma energy weapon which the vessel used to defend itself not only had extreme destructive force, but also functioned as an unusual data-gathering system; as V'Ger destroyed a vessel, it gathered an enormous amount of information, and created what appeared to be a holographic record of it, later referred to by the Ilia probe as a 'data pattern'. In essence, V'Ger didn't so much destroy a target as "remember" it to death. When the science officer of the Enterprise, Commander Spock, entered the area, he could see images of everything that the powerful entity had encountered on its long journey, including planets, star systems, and entire galaxies, though the images remained indeterminable, as to whether they had been destroyed or simply explored. When Spock came to an image of a gigantic Lieutenant Ilia, he noticed a glowing "node", at the base of the image's throat. He was being guided telepathically by V'Ger, and attempted to access the data through a Vulcan mind meld. He quickly suffered a sensory overload, losing consciousness, and was flung back through the spiral "orifice" toward the Enterprise.

V'Ger was able to control atmospheric conditions within its chambers. In the area near where Spock encountered the image of Ilia, there was an "inner sanctum," a central nexus where V'Ger could create a Class M environment. In this nexus was a large circular area, resembling an amphitheater, with data conduits running into the center. Lightning constantly lit the background, possibly the visible "nerve" transmissions of V'Ger itself.

The heart of V'Ger

Vger

The heart of V'Ger

The center contained the oldest part of V'GerVoyager 6, an unmanned space probe launched by NASA in the late 20th century. The entire vessel surrounding the Voyager probe was built by an unknown race of machine entities in order to help it complete what the latter interpreted to be its primary programming: "learn all that is learnable," and return that knowledge to its creator. During its journey, the probe came to think of itself as V'Ger after the only remaining legible letters from its original name (the "O", "Y", "A" and "6" on the nameplate being obscured from encounters with previous spatial hazards) and amassed knowledge to such a degree as to become self-aware.

Evolution of V'Ger

The machine planet

V'Ger had an extraordinary ability to evolve. It was discovered that the evolution of this once simple probe into a complex, powerful entity began after it was pulled into an anomaly once called a black hole shortly after leaving Earth's solar system.
The dialog in Star Trek: The Motion Picture suggests the anomaly was a wormhole.

Voyager 6 emerged from the anomaly in what was believed to have been the far side of the galaxy, and fell into the gravitational field of a planet populated by living machines. These beings found Voyager 6 damaged by its travels, and the identifying plaque attached to the probe's exterior had been burned leaving only the letters V, G, E, and R legible; the inhabitants of the machine planet called the probe V'Ger.

These entities found V'Ger to be primitive, but of a kindred spirit. They discovered the probe's simple, 20th century programming, "learn all that is learnable and return that knowledge to the creator", and interpreted these instructions literally.

Reprogramming

Reconstructed through highly advanced technologies as a vast space-faring artificial organism, V'Ger was augmented with a three-dimensional data collection and storing apparatus magnitudes beyond anything previously known to Federation science. Likewise providing it with effectively immeasurable defensive and sensory capabilities, the inhabitants of the machine planet gave V'Ger the ability to fulfill its programming in a far more complete fashion than the scientists who originally built and launched the vessel at its core ever imagined.

Sentience

Voyager6

At the heart of V'Ger, the crew of the Enterprise found the ancient Voyager VI probe

While traversing the vast distance back to Earth, V'Ger collected data via its 3D imaging system, but it destroyed the objects that it encountered along the way. However, it accumulated so much knowledge that it eventually achieved consciousness and became, like its benefactors, a living machine. As a machine it was only capable of pure, cold logic with no emotion, but with its new-found sentience V'Ger began to question its own existence. It asked the philosophical questions faced by so many lifeforms: "Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?" The answers, V'Ger decided, could only be found with its creator on Earth.

Resolution

Vger evolving

Upon merging with Humanity, V'Ger evolved into a higher level of existence

Realizing it lacked the intuitive, irrational elements which allow Humans to deal with some complex, non-scientific concepts, it came to believe that only its Creator could help it to leap beyond logic. In order to obtain the answers it needed, V'Ger wished to meet and become one with its Creator. To this end, it sought not only to receive the acknowledged signal from the Creator, but to merge with the Creator.

But V'Ger had been reprogrammed to such an extent that it had come to think of biological lifeforms as an "infestation", and destroyed any that it encountered. When V'Ger encountered the crew of the Enterprise, its confusion over its true nature was so great that it could not comprehend what it was told – that it had been created by the very organic lifeforms it saw only as imperfections that must be cleansed.

In an effort to meet its Creator, V'Ger refused to accept the pre-programmed transmission that would signal it to transmit its accumulated data. The probe burned out a relay connection, hoping to force the Creator to come to its heart so that they could merge. Realizing that the only way V'Ger would understand was to add Humanity to its experiences, Captain Willard Decker, who was deeply affected by the loss of Ilia, his former lover, sacrificed himself to become one with the machine lifeform. Decker rewired the relay connection and keyed in the final sequence of the transmission manually. This prompted V'Ger to begin transmitting its data, effectively merging with Decker and the Ilia probe, thus taking V'Ger to a new level of existence. At last satisfied with its answers, V'Ger disappeared in a blinding flash of white light, leaving Admiral James T. Kirk, Commander Spock and Dr. Leonard McCoy of the Enterprise to discuss the possibility that they had just created a new lifeform made of V'Ger's logic and of Humanity's ability to feel and to believe. What V'Ger evolved into remains unknown to this day. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture)

Appendices

Background information

Gene Roddenberry in an interview shortly after "Q Who" said that the machine planet seen by Spock might have been the Borg homeworld. (Star Trek Encyclopedia) This idea was further developed in the William Shatner novel The Return, where Spock's mind meld with V'Ger not only protected Spock from being assimilated (since the Collective was already present in Spock's mind, the Borg assumed he was already one of them), but provided the Federation with the coordinates of the Borg homeworld for a final attack. It may also be significant that Spock, when referring to V'Ger, says, "Resistance would be futile." In the game Star Trek: Legacy, it is said that V'Ger itself created the Borg to gain the knowledge by assimilation. The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Dragon's Teeth" seems to contradict the game's storyline, as the character of Gedrin states to Seven of Nine that his species, the Vaadwaur, had encountered the Borg over nine centuries prior to his revival, placing the Borg's genesis at least as far back as around the year 1400 AD. The story writers for Star Trek: Legacy, however, claimed on the official game forum that Voyager 6 was meant to have been thrown back in time as well as across the galaxy, an aspect mentioned in the "extras" cut-scenes of the game itself. Star Trek Online also hints at a connection to the Borg, as vessels closely resembling V'Ger are featured as Borg mini-bosses, even including the disintegrating plasma weapons and the V'Ger-style low-pitched sound effects. [1]

The concept of V'Ger, an Earth-launched space probe that becomes a powerful, sentient being in its own right, is in many ways a revisiting of the Nomad probe featured in the original series episode "The Changeling".

In the original theatrical release, the V'Ger energy cloud is given a size measuring eighty-two AUs in diameter, in dialog from the Epsilon IX commander. Placing V'Ger at the same position as the sun would mean that the energy cloud would extend into the orbit of Eris, essentially swallowing the entire solar system. This was later drastically scaled down to two AUs for the Directors' Edition DVD, by editing the spoken dialog to clip out the "eighty" and leaving just the "two". As one AU is precisely the average distance between Sol and Earth, this reduces the size of the cloud to "merely" the diameter of Earth's orbit.

When Spock attempts the mind-meld with V'Ger and is quickly overwhelmed, among the images visible on the screen multiple times, when in slow motion, amid the background of his face, can be seen the dedication plaque carried not by Voyager 1 and 2, but by Pioneer 10 and 11. Other images include a Klingon cruiser seen earlier, the bridge and two crew members of (presumably) the IKS Amar, Epsilon IX, the Epsilon IX lieutenant, and Ilia.

V'Ger appears in the third issue of the comic book Star Trek: Nero, set during 2009's Star Trek. After escaping twenty-five years of imprisonment on Rura Penthe in the alternate reality he caused, Nero is taken by the Narada – itself an artificial intelligence due to its Borg-based modifications – to V'Ger, which Nero uses to calculate where and when Spock will arrive.

Concept and effects development

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Star Trek: The Motion Picture's first visual effects house, Robert Abel & Associates, developed concepts for V'Ger that were radically different from anything that had ever appeared on screen. Robert Abel's art director, Richard Taylor, and his team worked on a design that was totally different from the version that was ultimately created for the film. Taylor brought in artist Tony Smith to help with the conceptual design, and it was Smith who did the original drawings of the exterior of V'Ger. Taylor designed V'Ger with the idea that the entire object would never be seen. "It was to be a dark object, not some light covered mother ship from Close Encounters. It's always more mysterious to show less and leave it to the imagination," explained Taylor. "There's a part of V'Ger toward the tail section where there is a huge sphere that rotates and in the center of that sphere is the old Voyager 6 probe. Our V'Ger design is much more complex and much more mysterious. For one thing, it would have been a lot more interactive with the Enterprise."

Vger concept art (1)

A Richard Taylor concept art for the exterior of V'Ger

Taylor's philosophy was to make V'Ger a living machine. "It would have 'morphed' and on the inside the walls would have been iridescent and changed as the Enterprise moved past them. You would have seen images of the Enterprise along the walls because it was being analyzed by V'Ger and there would have been parts of walls that would break apart like a flock of birds or a swarm of insects," explained Taylor. "The swarms would go from one place to another and reassemble. You could think of the particles as digital energy or digital information. I wanted it to be a very metamorphical and very mysterious place. For the exterior of the thing one of the design concepts I had was to photo-etch thin metal plates so that the outside surface would have multiple levels which would continually move creating different patterns. We found a material that you could apply like paint that when heated with warm air from a blower would change color. It had an iridescent color quality that I was looking for like a beetle's back or butterflies wings. I wanted V'Ger's skin or surface to change color near the Enterprise as it moved over the surface. I wanted the image of the Enterprise to be left like glowing phosphor images along the walls of V'Ger."

The director's edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in 2002, features a somewhat different transformation scene at the end of the film than what was released in 1979. Richard Taylor explained what the original plans were for the evolution of V'Ger into a higher lifeform: "What we had storyboarded was that the whole V'Ger craft unfolds and turns into this incredible object in space. That effect would have started where Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the Voyager 6 was and would have radiated outward from there through the ship. There would have been this change that goes through V'Ger's interior and then to the outside, unfolding into a big flower kind of thing with all these radiating colors and such."

Brick Price – whose company, Brick Price Movie Miniatures, was brought in by Robert Abel on The Motion Picture – worked on the V'Ger model (at least some of the early stages of it, when Richard Taylor was designer). The model they started, in August of 1978, looked like a cigar with a maw that opened up. They disliked that design because it was too much like the planet killer from TOS: "The Doomsday Machine" and there was already enough trouble with the script being so similar to that episode and "The Changeling". "But we did a lot of tests working with the textures like paint, color and light, things of that sort," explained Price, "and it wound up with a very organic art-deco look to it. Taylor was an avid deco fan. That one might have been interesting had they gone with it. It would have had a bubble on it and the Voyager craft would have been on an island underneath one of those. The whole skin surface was sort of iridescent. But then Paramount Pictures decided to have miles and miles of white and not let people know what it looked like exactly. Ours was really bizarre and all convoluted with things hanging off it. So every time it changed hands it changed completely. Taylor's original interior concept of V'Ger was extremely complex. You can see all sorts of actual light functions and all sorts of spheres representing the V'Ger concept of life."

Vger concept art (2)

A Richard Taylor concept art for the interior of V'Ger

"I think V'Ger more than anything was incredibly compromised because the effects had changed hands and they had to come up with their own solutions in a very short period of time," said Richard Taylor. "Doug[las Trumbull] was not going to use my solution because that model had not been built. We had built test pieces and had done extensive tests of processes we were going to use when we finally began construction. I was told Douglas Trumbull described the exterior as a 'weird fish' (Cinefex,1980, issue 1). That's a pretty subjective description. I don't think many would agree [....] My point was that one would never really see the entire shape of V'Ger because the ship was so big – it really wasn't that important. Just show glimpses of the exterior and let the audience's imagination do the rest."

Robert Abel & Associations, however, had overstretched themselves and Paramount lost confidence in their ability to deliver the movie's visual effects in time for its release. The studio thus handed control to Douglas Trumbull, who divided work on V'Ger between two teams: his would deal with the interior, while John Dykstra's people would work on V'Ger's exterior. In this area, all the work that the Abel studios had done was abandoned and the two teams set about developing entirely new concepts. The highly-respected artist Syd Mead was brought in and worked with Dykstra to design an entirely new version of the giant craft.

The model of V'Ger that they built was never seen in its entirety, but it was extraordinarily large, at sixty feet in length. Dykstra remembered that even constructing it in time posed logistical problems: "We were building the model on one end of the stage and photographing it on the other with a black curtain between the two – that was the unique approach to doing the work. We had three crews working eight-hour shifts in order to get that work done." The situation was complicated because the camera had to record several passes over the model at very slow speeds. Some of the passes took as long as eighteen hours, and if the motors failed (which they often did) they had to be recorded again from scratch.

Trumbull's team, handling the interior of V'Ger, considered several different approaches – possibly using matte paintings or some kind of laser scanning effect – before settling on a conventional model. Most of the design work was done by Syd Mead, who by now had finished his work on the V'Ger exterior. His designs followed Trumbull's brief, which called for six-sided symmetry. When it was filmed, the model was filled with smoke to give it the right sense of scale. The walls were originally illuminated with miniature light bulbs, which were built into the model. However, when it came to the filming, they were too big to be convincing. Greg Jein, who had built the model, suggested the solution to this problem: drill hundreds of holes in the model and run fiber optic lights behind them.

The major reason why Trumbull took on the shots inside V'Ger was that he was also filming a new sequence in which Spock explored the inside of the vast machine. His Spock spacewalk replaced the 'memory wall' sequence that the Abel studios had originally planned, and had been filmed during first-unit photography. Trumbull did not feel he could make the sequence work with what had been shot without spending an insane amount of money.

Vger concept art (3)

A Robert T. McCall drawing of Spock's journey through V'Ger

The wire work that had been filmed on the stage was awkward and unwieldy; there were even problems with reflections in the spacesuit faceplates. Instead, Trumbull pursued director Robert Wise to let him shoot a new sequence, which he designed himself. The storyboards were worked up by Tom Cranham, with several artists including David Negrón, Sr. and Robert T. McCall developing concepts for the sights that Spock would see. The spacesuits were completely redesigned, and then built at Apogee.

The final effect – when V'Ger disappears, leaving the Enterprise in orbit around Earth – was especially designed so as to expand only horizontally, ensuring that it could not be mistaken for a conventional explosion. Remarkably, all these shots were completed in time for the movie's premiere, and the film's audiences were so impressed with what they saw that the Trumbull/Dykstra team was jointly nominated for an Academy Award.

The size controversy

The physical size of V'Ger has been the subject of speculation from the time Star Trek: The Motion Picture was first released at the end of 1979. One popular non-canon site for Star Trek technical details, the Daystrom Institute Technical Library, listed V'Ger's overall length at a staggering ninety-seven kilometers, stated as being determined from apparently careful measurement of the image of the refitted NCC-1701 from the movie's scenes, as the Enterprise traveled closely (at only 500 meters distance, from the movie's dialogue) over the various parts of V'Ger's exterior structures, during the Federation starship's initial close examination of the "intruder" vessel. Another estimate places V'Ger's colossal length at a much more conservative twenty kilometers instead, possibly based on the statement of replacement navigator DiFalco's "distance inside the intruder as 17 kilometers", spoken just after Chekov reports that V'Ger's "orbiting devices" were eighteen minutes from reaching their equidistant deployment points in Earth orbit, during the approach to Voyager 6's "island", in the most extreme part of V'Ger's interior that the Enterprise was allowed access to. The latter estimate, however, would make V'Ger impossibly smaller than the roughly seventy kilometer-long Whale Probe featured in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, given that the latter was passed by a Federation starship within minutes, rather than the near-hour it took to traverse even half of V'Ger at faster pace.

Where no certainty has yet been shown as to where the "Voyager 6 island" structure was exactly located within V'Ger's immense interior length, such speculation might be likely to continue for some time to come.

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