A Bajoran lightship was a type of early Bajoran spacegoing vessel that utilized solar sail-powered space flight. These vessels were used by the Bajorans as early as the 16th century, at a time prior to the Fall of their First Republic. (DS9: "Explorers")
Bajorans first traveled from Bajor to Cardassia, and established First 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 weren't 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, it could be severely damaged as a result. 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")
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.
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)
- John Knoll at Industrial Light & Magic rendered the lightship as a CGI model. (Star Trek Encyclopedia 2nd ed., p. 30) 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.
- A model of the lightship was released by Galoob as part of their Star Trek Micro Machines collection.