(covers information from several alternate timelines)
The turbolift, or turbo-elevator, was a device that provided rapid transport with both vertical and horizontal transportation for personnel through a system of turboshafts between key sections of starships and space stations. The equivalent technology aboard Malon vessels was known as an ascender.
While most starship turbolifts were enclosed, some turbolifts remained open when at rest, in the style of an elevator built in the early-to-mid-20th century. The Cardassians built such a turbolift on Terok Nor when it was in operation, and it was still in use by Starfleet on the renamed Deep Space 9. Once this turbolift was activated, it became enclosed as a precautionary measure. These turbolifts' positioning mechanisms were powered by multi-phase alternating current. In ships and stations that contained turbolift doors that remained closed while not in use, the doors were often unresponsive in low or no power situations. (citation needed • edit)
NX-class starships needed only a button to be pressed to specify which deck to travel to. (ENT: "Cold Front") Incorporated in the design of Constitution-class turbolifts were small handles on the interior, allowing for transport without the use of voice commands. At some point, it became necessary to use both the handle and to submit a voice command on board Constitution-class ships. (DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations") This type of turbolift was considerably compact and could not easily accommodate, for example, immense beings with a hundred limbs. (TOS: "By Any Other Name") In the 2270s, the turbolift's tactile interface was succeeded by voice command operation, allowing passengers to use voice commands to direct the turbolift. Upon receipt of the voice command, the command queried the network, allowing for computation of the most optimal route to the destination. Such routes factored in the presence of other turbolifts already in operation. The auditory receivers also automatically scanned for voiceprint authentication, allowing for select personnel access to restricted areas. Turbolifts from the 23rd century also featured communication panels to allow communication with other sections of the ship without the need for a communicator. (TOS: "Elaan of Troyius")
In 2152, Daniels transported Captain Jonathan Archer to the 31st century while Archer was in a turbolift to prevent him from surrendering to the Suliban. This resulted in a severe temporal paradox that almost prevented Archer's return to 2152. (ENT: "Shockwave", "Shockwave, Part II")
In a hallucination experienced by Ensign Hoshi Sato later that year, she imagined walking into a turbolift that didn't respond to her repeatedly pressing a button on the control pad. It was apparently not until another crewman entered the lift and operated the same control panel that the turbolift finally complied. (ENT: "Vanishing Point")
In 2165 of an alternate timeline, the turbolifts aboard Enterprise became non-functional during a battle between that vessel and a fleet of Xindi ships. As a result, when Jonathan Archer and T'Pol tried to access one of the turbolifts on Enterprise, the turbolift's door wouldn't even open. (ENT: "Twilight")
In 2263 of the alternate reality, the USS Enterprise was heavily damaged and ultimately destroyed in an attack by innumerable tiny ships commanded by an "alien" warlord, Krall. During the attack, Krall ordered the swarm to "cut [the Enterprise's] throat", an action which severed several turboshafts. This resulted in a turbolift Leonard McCoy and Spock were traveling in being ejected into space. McCoy and Spock were able to escape by hijacking one of the ships when its occupants attempted to capture them. (Star Trek Beyond)
In 2268, multiple Deep Space 9/USS Defiant crew members, searching for Arne Darvin to prevent him from killing Kirk, infiltrated the USS Enterprise by beaming into the turbolifts. (DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations")
In 2287, after the construction of the new USS Enterprise-A, many systems were still nonfunctional, including the warp drive. After shore leave, when Kirk entered the main bridge with Spock and McCoy, Kirk was annoyed by the turbolift only opening partially. (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier)
In 2365, when the USS Enterprise-D scanned the logs from the USS Yamato, they contracted a computer virus, which severely affected all critical systems aboard the ship. One of these systems was the turbolifts, as a consequent malfunction resulted in highly increased acceleration rates and tremendous direction shifts, injuring Lieutenant Geordi La Forge inside, and practically throwing him onto the bridge. (TNG: "Contagion")
In 2368, a metal parasite infested the Enterprise-D when it destroyed an asteroid about to collide with a planet. When this parasite began to ingest the nitrium from all critical systems, the turbolifts became affected, because the circuitry was being broken down as Captain Picard and Lieutenant Commander Data were still inside, although they managed to escape uninjured. (TNG: "Cost of Living")
Also in 2368, a collection of quantum filaments collided with the Enterprise-D, disabling power to many of the main systems, including life support, main engines, and computer control. At this time, Picard and some children were in a turbolift, and Picard decided to climb the emergency shaft in case the unstable turbolift fell in the shaft. Using a makeshift rope made from optical cable, Picard and the children escaped the doomed turbolift and climbed to the upper decks. (TNG: "Disaster")
In 2369, Constable Odo and Ambassador Lwaxana Troi were trapped in a turbolift onboard space station Deep Space 9 for several hours after an alien probe, later called "Pup" by Miles O'Brien, damaged several of the station's systems. Kira Nerys informed Odo not to shape-shift his way out through the turboshaft, as Cardassian turbolifts have exposed multi-phase alternating current running through the positioning mechanism. (DS9: "The Forsaken")
In 3189, a firefight occurred in the USS Discovery's turbolift system during the fight by her crew to retake her from the Emerald Chain. Multiple Regulators and the courier Zareh attempted to stop Michael Burnham and Cleveland Booker from rebooting Discovery's computer, but several Regulators and Zareh were killed by phaser fire or knocked into the shaft. (DIS: "That Hope Is You, Part 2")
- Descent stabilizer
- Electric eye
- Turbolift control
- Turbolift control system
- Turbolift log
- Turbolift shaft
- Turbolift system
- Turbolift voice receptors
In the script of TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before", this type of elevator was referred to as "a high-speed cab with many capabilities (to permit development in future episodes)." The script went on to describe the effect of the turbolift in motion; "We will see flickering lights of the rapidly accelerating ship's elevator passing deck after deck."
Garfield Reeves-Stevens explains how, for "Where No Man Has Gone Before", the effect of a turbolift moving between decks in a single shot was achieved; "It's just a really clever, simple trick, where they just put up a wall, I guess a 'wild' wall, in front of the bridge, and actually shot the turbolift on the bridge. And as soon as the turbolift doors close, then they started the light beams going up the side, just rolled away the wild wall and then when the turbolift doors open, they're there." (Starfleet Access for "Where No Man Has Gone Before", TOS Season 1 Blu-ray special features)
As scripted for the next episode, "The Corbomite Maneuver", a turbolift containing Kirk was to change direction from vertical to horizontal travel, while its destination was redirected from the bridge to the captain's quarters. In the final version of the episode, though, the lift is only shown making an ascent, prior to when the course change would have been. Another turbolift ride featuring Kirk was scripted to be shown later in the episode, but is not in the final cut of the installment.
For usage on Star Trek: The Original Series, the turbolift was created as a movable unit. "The whole turbolift module could be moved to another corridor location," Robert Justman remarked. (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 17, p. 13)
The presence of only one turbolift accessible from the bridge of the Enterprise in TOS came under some scrutiny, sometimes being criticized because, if that single turbolift was out of use for whatever reason, it could (and occasionally did) trap the bridge officers on the bridge. (text commentary, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition)) Gene Roddenberry once admitted, "The one elevator to the bridge was a mistake, and no emergency exit in sight. Yes, we would correct that [if we were ever to do Star Trek again]." (The World of Star Trek, 3rd ed., p. 39) Indeed, in an effort to remedy the situation, two turbolifts were later included in the Enterprise bridge of Star Trek: The Animated Series and the ship's refit configuration, as originally seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. (text commentary, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition)) The addition of the second turbolift in The Animated Series, an element that was also later planned for inclusion in the ultimately abandoned series Star Trek: Phase II, was specifically made in response to viewers asking what would happen in the case of a lift break-down. (Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series, p. 20) The existence of the double turbolifts was represented on schematics of the Phase II Enterprise, akin to a pair of "'Mickey Mouse' ears" atop the vessel's saucer section. ("A New Enterprise", Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series central images)
In The Motion Picture, part of the Enterprise's turbolift was meant to indicate the lift's movement through the ship. Production Designer Harold Michelson explained, "One thing we did with the elevators was put in a plan of the whole ship and when you press a button a light would move." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 8, p. 98) This light, a small white dot, represented the turbolift itself, providing a guide to the lift's position. According to Daren Dochterman, the diagram was of the Enterprise's ultimately unrealized configuration from Star Trek: Phase II. (audio commentary, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Blu-ray))
Another schematic of the Enterprise was incorporated into the back wall of the turbolift aboard the USS Reliant in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, presumably because the set of the Enterprise bridge doubled as that of the Reliant. (text commentary, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (The Director's Edition) DVD)
The fact that Gene Roddenberry liked the concept of having discussions in the turbolifts of the Galaxy-class Enterprise influenced the designers of the ship, who at first considered having an on-bridge transporter for TNG, to ultimately discard that idea. (Starlog issue #125, p. 46)
Although a monorail was initially considered for transportation within Deep Space 9, the turbolifts were again opted for. "We had the concept of the turbolifts kinda tying together the whole station," said Concept Artist Ricardo Delgado. (Deep Space Nine: A Bold Beginning, DS9 Season 1 DVD special features) Owing to television's need for speedy plot advancement, a way of maneuvering characters to and from the operations center (or "Ops") quickly was required, which was why a turbolift was incorporated into the set designed for Ops. (Star Trek - Where No One Has Gone Before, paperback ed., p. 168)
Showing turbolifts enter and leave a room was something Production Designer Herman Zimmerman "always wanted to do." He was able to achieve this goal on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, with the turbolift in Deep Space 9's operations center. "We only had a certain amount of space under the stage that we could work with so one of the criteria for raising a platform was to gain an extra few feet to operate these elevator mechanisms," he commented. "We do see the actors come up out of the stage floor and that proves to be very effective. On other sets that isn't possible so we just see the elevator doors open as we do in The Next Generation." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 23, No. 6, p. 29) Zimmerman considered the more open DS9-style turbolift to be "an interesting innovation for this show" and noted the design was similar to a mine elevator. (Trek: Deepspace Nine, p. 57)
In a scene conceived for the film Star Trek: First Contact but not included in the movie's final version, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Lily Sloane were to have discovered – due to Borg invaders having increased the humidity aboard the USS Enterprise-E – a mini-thunderstorm atop a turbolift shaft. The inspiration for this scene came from co-writer Ronald D. Moore reading about how NASA's Vertical Assembly Building is so massive that it has its own weather systems, but budget constraints trimmed the scene from the film's script. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion (3rd ed., p. 332))
For DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations", a 23rd-century turbolift had to be recreated and built as a set by the DS9 art department. The lighting of the turbolift matched that of the turbolifts from TOS, rather than those in TNG. "We actually put a roller belt with holes in it, and put a stationary light behind it, and literally hand cracked the roller," stated Herman Zimmerman. "Of course now we do it with a computer chip and a lot of light bulbs that go on and off sequentially that change the floors. But I think the effects department got a kick out of doing it the old way." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, Nos. 6/7, pp. 76 & 78)
In an ultimately unused line of dialogue from the writers' second draft script of ENT: "Breaking the Ice", Travis Mayweather briefly alluded to a story about how his mother, Rianna Mayweather, had nearly given birth to him in a turbolift.
In the final draft script of ENT: "Acquisition", Commander Tucker was referred to as hiding in an open turbolift near Captain Archer and a Ferengi named Krem. However, in the equivalent scene from the final version of the episode, Tucker instead hides in the corridors of Enterprise NX-01.
A similar case is a turbolift journey in ENT: "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II", in which the mirror universe version of Jonathan Archer, aboard the USS Defiant, imagines his prime-universe counterpart encouraging him to catch a Gorn named Slar. In the episode's final draft script, the turbolift wasn't used, as the scene instead took place while Mirror Archer was sitting in the Defiant's command chair.
In the film Star Trek, a turbolift which is visible aboard the USS Kelvin was originally to have included a wall-mounted diagram of the ship's exterior, though that design element was excised during the making of the film. (Star Trek - The Art of the Film, p. 27) The exterior of the turbolift, seen briefly as it descends through a turboshaft into engineering, was (like the turboshafts themselves) visualized with CGI. (Star Trek Three disc Blu-ray documentary featurette "Starships")
For Star Trek Into Darkness, sets for five turbolifts were built on Sony Stage 15. One such set was connected to each of two separate corridors, with another on the bridge, another in the medical bay, and another in the lobby.