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.
Models of the spacecraft from the show hang over the entrance on the museum's second floor, including two Enterprises (from the series and the movies), 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 as a photo prop.
Star Fleet uniforms, Klingon tunics and other costumes adorn mannequin in glass cases, and 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 favorite episode.
One wall display is devoted to the character of Spock, and includes in a glass case the surprisingly small, pointy tips to his 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 lunch boxes to paperback novels.
A 30-minute film on the history of the series shows continuously in a small sit-down theater area.