The process of ship commissioning is the final stage in the beginning of life of a naval vessel or starship.
A ship's life begins during construction, a process that begins with the primary pieces of the vessel's structure being laid down, a term which originates from the time of ocean-going navy organizations, when the keel of a ship was literally "laid down" in a drydock to have the hull built around it.
After the superstructure is constructed, a vessel is launched. Once launched, the ship is removed from any dock structures to be tested, commonly referred to as a shakedown cruise. This is not always the final stage of the construction, as a vessel that is launched could still require major work to be done, but a launched vessel is usually competent to at least move under its own power.
Once a vessel is deemed to be qualified to be in service, it is commissioned. Although prototype designs may require periods of time for shakedown between their launch and commission, proven designs could be launched and commissioned almost simultaneously, as their performance would not be in question, excepting normal inspections and performance tests.
The commissioning process usually involves a ceremony or at least an observance of the ship being activated into service. If a government agency is in possession of a ship, their act of commissioning the vessel will generally include designations, such as names or numbers, and the listing of the ship into said agency's registry.
If a ship is taken out of active service lists, it is said to be decommissioned. This could be done for a variety of reasons, including changes to the ship's designation or registry, or work to be done on the physicality of the ship itself. At this point, the vessel's name and registry could be removed from lists of ships on duty, and the ship would not be considered in active commission. In the Federation Starfleet, starships or other vessels that have reached a certain age, become technologically outdated, or have been severely damaged may be decommissioned.
When a vessel is decommissioned, there are a variety of things that may be done with the vessel.
- It may be sent to a surplus yard, such as Qualor II to either be stripped down or be held in reserve. (TNG episode: "Unification")
- It could be dismantled, with its components either scrapped or recycled for use on board other ships or installations. (TOS movie: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock; TOS reference: Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise)
- It could be used as a target for live fire exercises. (TOS novel: The Ashes of Eden)
- It may be given to a planetary or regional government for use in a local defense force. (TOS novel: The Ashes of Eden)
- It may be drydocked as a museum exhibit. (TNG novel: Crossover)
- At one time the Federation has sold decommissioned vessels to private entities. (TNG novel: Blaze of Glory)
Examples of decommissioning
At the completion of the first five-year mission under the command of James T. Kirk, Starfleet originally decided to decommission and dismantle the USS Enterprise. However, the high-profile nature of the Enterprise led Starfleet to reverse that decision, and to instead refit the Enterprise. (TOS reference: Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise)
In 2285, the age of the Enterprise, coupled with all the recent damage inflicted by Khan Noonien Singh led Starfleet to decide to finally decommission the Enterprise. Before Starfleet could do so, then-Admiral James T. Kirk stole the Enterprise and took it to the Genesis Planet. (TOS movie: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)
After the signing of the Khitomer Accords in 2293, the USS Enterprise was decommissioned. The vessel was soon handed over to the government of Chal for use in their local defense force. She was later destroyed by Admiral Androvar Drake. (TOS novel: The Ashes of Eden)
For some time, the Federation sold old, outdated starships to private concerns. There was at least one old Constitution-class starship that was sold in such a manner. This vessel eventually fell into Romulan hands, where it had been refitted and given to the privateer Diego DeBlazio to attack Federation shipping. (TNG novel: Blaze of Glory)
The Vulcan ship T'Pau was decommissioned and sent to the surplus yard at Qualor II. At some point the T'Pau was stolen from the yard, along with two other Vulcan ships by Romulan agents. The ships were used by the Romulans in their attempt to invade Vulcan, and were destroyed when the invasion failed and the capture of the invasion force was inevitable. (TNG episode: "Unification")
A recommissioning would then be the process of taking a decommissioned vessel back into active service. Often, such a vessel would have new modifications made, or could simply have been renamed or even recrewed after a period of inactivity.
The government of United Earth commissioned the Earth Starfleet space vessel Enterprise NX-01 hurriedly, as the vessel was ready for launch, but somewhat untested. Many of the ship's systems were tested during the first mission, and some secondary systems were not installed until later in the vessel's first years of service. (ENT episodes: "Broken Bow", "Silent Enemy", et al.)
The Federation Starfleet took advantage of an extended schedule for the beginning of its Constitution-class vessels. The first vessel authorized was the NX-1700, but as the project moved forward, another construction contract was filed for the second vessel, NCC-1701. The second vessel was completed in advance of the NX-1700, and was launched first, in 2243. Both vessels were in launch later in 2243, with the first construction bearing its NX-1700 registry, and 1701 construction being temporarily registered NX-0002. The ships were finally commissioned as Constitution and Enterprise, respectively, in 2245. (ST references: The Star Trek Encyclopedia, Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual; TOS novel: Final Frontier; ST - Crew comic: "Shakedown")
The Federation Starfleet recommissioned an existing vessel, renamed and re-registered as the USS Enterprise-A in honor of the crew of the last voyages of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701). The vessel had previously borne the names Ti-Ho, Atlantis and Yorktown. (ST references: Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise; FASA RPG module: Federation Ship Recognition Manual)