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Out of This World

A childhood fascination with space exploration morphs into a renowned collection of TV and movie memorabilia.

Deloitte LifeTo fellow Star Trek fans, Adam Schneider is known as “the guy who collects the models.” These aren’t the small, plastic items available at toy stores; these are the actual miniature spacecraft built for use in the production of the Star Trek television and motion picture franchise. While computer animation has meant that model-making for movies and television is a dying art, people like Schneider are keeping the memories alive.

Growing up in the 1960s, Schneider was enamored with the space race and America’s journey to the moon; he dreamed of one day becoming an astronomer and contributing to mankind’s understanding of the universe. He abandoned the stars as a career ambition, and today he’s a Deloitte Consulting LLP principal in New York City, helping clients in the financial services industry better understand the complexities of competing in that dynamic marketplace.

Principal’s log: Stardate 2006

While Schneider has been a loyal “Trekkie” and devoted fan of the original Star Trek series since his youth, he didn’t begin collecting TV or movie memorabilia until 2006. “One day I read about an upcoming sale at Christie’s auction house in New York,” he says. “They were putting up a thousand lots of Star Trek items so I went to take a look.”

As he walked into the showroom, the first thing Schneider saw was an eight-foot model of the Starship Enterprise — the one used in the motion pictures. Schneider says his first thought was, “Oh my gosh, that’s the actual thing.” Wandering through the galleries, he saw 60 or so additional miniatures on display, as well as an assortment of phasers, other props, and costumes. But it was the models that captured his attention.

While Schneider hadn’t had any previous experience at auctions or collecting, he successfully placed the winning bid on nine models. A few days later, he and wife Leslie rented a truck to pick them up, but unfortunately three of the models just wouldn’t fit. It turns out that some of the “miniatures” were not so miniature and had to be delivered later.

May they live long and prosper

“Nearly all of the miniatures were in bad shape as they were built for the needs of the show,” says Schneider. ”Once filming was over, they were tossed into a crate and sent to a warehouse. If needed again, they’d get refurbished. In between, nobody really cared about them.”

And so, Schneider and Leslie began the arduous task of getting these one-of-a-kind models back to their film-ready condition. The spacecrafts came in all shapes, sizes and configurations and were not always strictly intuitive, but together the Schneiders figured out how to renovate and display them. They now have a mini-museum in their home, displaying beautifully crafted, carefully restored models.

“Even though it’s been 15 years since these types of models have been used in motion pictures, there remains a community of artisans who either built the originals or worked on similar projects,” Schneider says. “I’ve been fortunate to work with many of these craftsmen to restore these things. They love it when anyone goes to the trouble to have them restored and enhanced.”

Schneider says it has been a privilege to work with these professionals, who do far more than brush on a fresh coat of paint. The models generally need substantial repair. Many were broken, most of the lighting was not functional and they were often in pieces. None were “mounted,” or ready for display. Matching the original look was essential, made challenging by the fact that some had sustained battle damage. Restoration is tedious, time-consuming work, but Schneider believes the only way to display these models properly is to respect how they looked while filming.

One of the challenges is trying to identify in which of the hundreds of TV episodes or one of the 12 movies each of his models was used. He’s logged countless hours of DVD time and successfully identified all but one model.

But that didn’t turn out to be his biggest challenge…

To boldly go where no man had gone before

For serious Star Trek collectors, there was one major piece from the original 1960s series that had “got away” — the Galileo, a shuttlecraft that transported people from the Starship Enterprise to planet surfaces. It was known to have survived the show’s end in 1969, but was lost until June 2012 when — decrepit and expensive — it turned up at auction.

Schneider purchased the Galileo and became the new owner of a 24-foot, 3,000-pound “giant thing made of wood.” It had been kept outdoors and, after 20 years of exposure to the elements, it was in need of extensive repair.

His prior restorers, who worked on smaller, plastic miniatures, could not handle the life-sized piece, so Schneider turned to an actual ship restoration expert. He was fortunate to find one near his New Jersey home and the massive undertaking of getting the craft back into mint condition quickly got under way.

“I’d spoken with the Galileo’s original builder and reviewed 50 pages of design plans in order to assemble a solid plan for how the ship should look,” Schneider says. “We’ve carefully reviewed all of the archival materials and the TV shows as part of the restoration. Just getting the paint colors right was major work.”

But what do you do with a “miniature” that’s too large to fit in a garage? Schneider decided to donate it to a museum. “This is a piece that really belongs to the space travel and Star Trek community,” Schneider says. “NASA named the first space shuttle after Star Trek’s Enterprise and it turns out the term “shuttle” is derived directly from the Galileo Shuttlecraft.”

In good consulting fashion, Schneider prepared a Request For Proposal and circulated it to top air and space museums. “Galileo deserves a world class home,” he says. After a long selection process, NASA’s Houston Visitor Center was chosen as its new home. Dedication is planned for July 31, 2013. “We are proud as can be that an actual NASA location will be the future home of Galileo,” he says. “It is consistent with the idea that Star Trek is a show about our future in space. This is a great outcome.”

So why such commitment to his craft? “The answer is an interesting and complicated response,” Schneider says. “All I can say is that it must be some type of love — and a need to preserve this important part of the history of film making.”

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