Bajorans first traveled from Bajor to Cardassia, and established ancient contact between the two worlds. For many years the Cardassians disputed this claim, referring to it as a "Bajoran fairy tale," because they refused to admit that the Bajorans had achieved interstellar flight before they had. However, Captain Benjamin Sisko and his son, Jake, inadvertently proved that the voyage was possible when they arrived in Cardassian space in a similar lightship. By a proclaimed remarkable coincidence, which Captain Sisko strongly doubted, the Cardassians announced that they found the remains of an ancient Bajoran lightship on Cardassia, thereby proving such an interstellar voyage was made. (DS9: "Explorers")
Although lightships were not capable of achieving warp speeds by design, a semi-controlled warp jump was possible if particles that were moving faster than light, for example tachyons, were to collide with the sails. However, because the ship wasn't designed to endure the stress of warp speeds, the sails could be severely damaged as a result, while the hull itself was fortunately sturdy enough to protect the crew. It was thanks to such an uncontrolled warp jump that the ancient Bajorans were able to bypass the Denorios belt and reach the Cardassian system before they crashed on Cardassia Prime. (DS9: "Explorers")
While the ship was primarily made of metal welded together, wood was also used as part of the design, which was cut using a saber saw. As a result of the sails, they had a very large surface area relative to their mass when compared to other ship designs. (DS9: "Explorers")
Lightships were not very large; capable of being operated by a single individual, having more than two people could quickly make things rather cramped.
Several viewports enabled the crew to view space and the condition of the sails. One large main viewport dominated the bow, where measurements could be taken of the stars with a sextant, and two other large circular ports with powered dilating shutters were located near the front. There were also at least four very small viewports, two each along the port and starboard sides. (DS9: "Explorers")
Command and control systems
The rigging consisted of several systems. Hand winches equipped with brakes deployed and retracted the sails: Two for the port and starboard mainsails, while a second pair was used for the sprit sails and jib. Between the two winch sets was a large bar handle on each side for trimming a sprit. One long bar rotating at the center point from the ceiling with control leads attached at the ends appears to have controlled the jib.
An electrical system provided power for lights inside the ship and other systems such as the secondary viewport shutters. Other functions it provided are unknown, except that if something went wrong with the sprits, they could be jettisoned with controlled explosions destroying the attachment points to the ship. (DS9: "Explorers")
Propulsion was achieved not by any system inside the ship, but rather outside of it: light pressure provided by the Bajoran sun. The lightship made use of this with a complement of five solar sails: two mainsails and two sprit sails, one each located on the port and starboard sides, and a jib on the top protruding between the upper portions of the mainsails. No form of propulsion that would accelerate the ships to escape velocity was demonstrated, they would have required ground based launch delivery system or would require orbital assembly facilities. (DS9: "Explorers")
Lightships had space for the storage of a few weeks worth of oxygen. The Bajorans also figured out how to adapt to an environment with no gravity, consuming zero gravity rations of food and water, and invented a zero gravity toilet. How they secured themselves during sleep is unknown; Ben and Jake Sisko had the benefit of gravity plating, so they used simple hammocks. (DS9: "Explorers")
Ships of the class
Illustrator Jim Martin described the idea behind the lightship's design as a "Bajoran turtle with gossamer wings." (Sailing Through the Stars: A Special Look at "Explorers", DS9 Season 3 DVD, Special Features)
Production designer Herman Zimmerman, illustrator Jim Martin and set designer Scott Herbertson envisioned the Siskos as "sailors in space" and intentionally made the set of the lightship similar to a sailing boat. Writer René Echevarria even told Zimmerman and Martin that he wanted the ship to have a "Jules Verne look, a wooden cabin outfitted with brass." Indeed, some real sailing equipment can be seen in the background at various points. Both Martin and Zimmerman count the lightship among their favorites to work on from a design point of view, and Zimmerman mentions it in the Star Trek V: The Final Frontier Special Edition DVD special feature "Herman Zimmerman: A Tribute". They also both discuss how much they enjoyed the project in "Sailing Through the Stars: A Special Look at "Explorers"", a featurette on the DS9 Season 3 DVD.
Zimmerman commented: "The original script talked about a means of propulsion which uses the ions in space to propel a craft, which would in layman's terms be the solar wind. The writer indicated that the ship was propelled by huge expanding solar sails that took advantage of the direction of the wind similar to the way a sailboat works on the oceans of the Earth. It was a fairly direct approach except that In space you're not sailing on a fluid that's underneath you, you're sailing in a hydrogen-enriched vacuum; in space that is all around you, so the sails couldn't just be above the ship - they would have to be deployed outward in a circular fan shape." (Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection, issue 18, p.13)
Ira Steven Behr commented: "...For the ship itself I also have to give a nod to Herman Zimmerman. When we went on stage and walked the ship, it was probably how they felt about the time machine from the 1960 movie – a great little piece of equipment. I said, 'Don't throw this out; don't trash it. Keep it somewhere because this goes in the Star Trek museum someday'. It's just a great prop." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
The design of the lightship itself was inspired by the Kon-Tiki, a deliberately primitive sailing craft that Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl used to sail from Peru to Tahiti in 1947, substantiating his belief that it was possible that a Pre-Columbian South American civilization could have settled Polynesia by making a trans-oceanic voyage.
As Jim Martin explains, in reality, a solar sail would need to be several miles wide to propel a ship like this. As such, "We needed to take it into the realm of fantasy. But that was a very whimsical idea, and we could be very whimsical with it, and do something that was kind of in a fun fantasy vein." (Sailing Through the Stars: A Special Look at "Explorers", DS9 Season 3 DVD special features)
Martin and Zimmerman enjoyed making the lightship clearly of Bajoran design. Martin commented, "the Bajoran stuff is gentle and elegant and ornate. Also, it's supposed to be a ship from far in the past; I think as humans we look back on earlier designs and a more elegant age, and you put that into the Bajorans too." (Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection, issue 18, p.15)
Under the direction of visual effects supervisor Glenn Neufeld, John Knoll at Industrial Light & Magic rendered the lightship as a CGI model. (Star Trek Encyclopedia (4th ed., vol. 1, p. 61)) He later used the model for Akorem Laan's ship in "Accession".
At its 1995 convention, the Space Frontier Foundation recognized this episode for exemplifying "the most imaginative use of a vehicle to travel in space," and awarded the episode the "Best Vision of the Future" award. The award was presented by Robert Staehle, the world's foremost expert on solar sails.
Most shots of the lightship are from the aft (rear) because, being powered by solar "currents", the ship always has its back to the Bajoran sun.
Models of the lightship were released by Galoob as part of their Star Trek Micro Machines collection and in Eaglemoss Collections' Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection. Another miniature of the ship will be released for the Star Trek: Attack Wing game in December 2015.
In the Pocket DS9 novel Dark Passions, Book One, the mirror universe version of Annika Hansen creates a holographic representation of a lightship for Intendant Kira Nerys. The Star Trek: Mirror Universe novel The Worst of Both Worlds, the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance routinely refers to the Bajoran lightships as evidence of the historic bond between the peoples of Bajor and Cardassia.