WASHINGTON — Washington -- Someone should have devised a way to beam them out of there. But William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise departed a packed press preview of "Star Trek: The Exhibition" yesterday in an ordinary freight elevator flanked by security guards in plain Terran blue uniforms.
But that was the only disappointment in a transporting event that may have brought more media to the National Air and Space Museum's newest attraction than covered the Iowa presidential caucuses.
Many reporters abandoned their professional aplomb by clamoring for autographs from the original stars of television's seemingly eternal science fiction series, now enshrined with an exhibit of memorabilia and social analysis. The display opens
tomorrow and runs through Sept. 7.
In addition to Mr. Shatner (Captain Kirk) and Mr. Nimoy (Mr. Spock), the guests included: DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy), James Doohan (Engineer Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura), Walter Koenig (Mr. Chekov), George Takei (Mr. Sulu) and Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel), who also is the widow of series creator Gene Roddenberry. Paramount Pictures chief Brandon Tartikoff also appeared.
All seemed genuinely impressed to be sitting on tall director chairs in front of a real lunar lander from one of the Apollo missions.
"[Star Trek] is much more than a TV show. It's an ideal, it's a vision," said Ms. Barrett, who contended the series is like the Air and Space Museum itself: "A testament that dreams can come true."
"It is not simply a display of a bunch of stuff . . . [but] a wonderful categorization of ideas," said Mr. Nimoy, of the exhibit. He has played half-Vulcan Spock in the 79 episodes of the original series, six movies and, recently, in two episodes of the sequel series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
" 'Star Trek' told the audience that it's all right to lead an ethical existence, that there's nothing wrong with doing the right thing," said Robert Justman, co-director with Roddenberry of many of the original series episodes.
"It is a living and vital cultural artifact," said exhibit curator Mary Henderson. She called "Star Trek" at times "a metaphor for planet Earth," with its attention to such issues as racism, the futility of war -- especially as dramatized on the show during America's agony over the Vietnam War -- and the hopeful notion that humankind has a future.
However, it was Mr. Shatner who noted that the series' original pilot was turned down by NBC. Nonetheless, his subsequent elevation to international fame is "a strange and awesome feeling," he conceded.
In response to a question, Mr. Nimoy said he cannot think of a single negative to the experience, noting, "I've been gainfully employed for a long time working in something of merit."
But Mr. Koenig laughingly noted, "I'm out of work. I don't expect to play the character of Chekov again," adding that this year's "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" is probably the last movie featuring the original cast.
In the exhibit itself, even casual fans of "Star Trek" will recognize much, and the faithful followers known as "Trekkies" or "Trekkers" will find arcane enjoyment in inside details. Some 80 original props and other artifacts are included in the exhibit, on loan from Paramount or private collections.
Models of the spacecraft from the show hang over the entrance on the museum's second floor, including two Enterprises (from the series andthe movies, the latter with flashing lights), a space shuttle and the cargo vehicle Botany Bay.
Captain Kirk's command chair (with disappointingly fake control panels) occupies one room -- visitors can sit in it for pictures. Around the corner, life-size cardboard figures stand on a transporter chamber ready for beaming, and that exhibit is also designed for visitors to use as a photo prop.
Star Fleet uniforms, Klingon tunics and other costumes adorn mannequin forms in two glass cases, and a variety of hand props, from phasers to analytical tricorders, fill another case.
And yes, Tribbles can be found, too. In fact, there are six of the furry figures from one of the series' favorite episodes.
One wall display is devoted to the character of Spock, and includes in a glass case the surprisingly small, pointy tips to his ears, apparently attached merely to the top of Mr. Nimoy's ears.
A variety of ephemera includes scripts, memos and other fascinating signs of particular episodes in progress, and a small section includes a variety of marketing spinoffs from the series, ranging from lunchboxes to paperback novels.
A 30-minute film on the history of the series shows continuously in a small sit-down theater area of the exhibit and includes interview material from many of the principal players.
Interestingly, the exhibits divide into particular themes with which the series has dealt, such as war and multicultural contact.
And an opening picture display places the series in the context of the socially turbulent 1960s, while elsewhere, another display depicts notable science fiction from the past, including "Buck Rogers" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still."
'Star Trek: The Exhibition' schedule
Star Trek: The Exhibition" is scheduled to run tomorrow through Sept. 7 at the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall at Independence Avenue and Sixth Street S.W., Washington.
Admission to the museum and exhibit is free, hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. June 15 through Sept. 7, extended summer hours will be 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily.
However, to control crowds in the exhibit, passes will be required for admission on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through June 15, and then at all times thereafter.
Same-day passes, limited to four per visitor, can be obtained at ++ the pass desk in the museum's south lobby near the Independence Avenue entrance.
Passes may be obtained as well at all TicketMaster outlets for a $2.50 "convenience charge" per pass. Through the TicketMaster PhoneCharge service, passes will cost $3.50 each, plus a $1 handling fee per phone order. These purchases, too, are limited to four passes.
The final screening of a weekly "Salute to Star Trek -- 25th Anniversary" film program is scheduled at 8 p.m. tomorrow, with free tickets (limited to four per person) available on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 5 p.m.
For information, call (202) 357-2700; TDD (202) 357-1729.
"Star Trek: A Universe of Fact and Fantasy," a day-long symposium, is scheduled Saturday in the Baird Auditorium of the National Museum of Natural History. (For information, call  357-3030.)