"Columbia is virtually identical to Enterprise."
"A good engineer can see the differences."
Development and launch
Starfleet Captain A.G. Robinson considered himself a likely candidate to be assigned command of the NX-02, having previously been passed up for captain of the first NX-class ship, Enterprise, in favor of Captain Jonathan Archer. Robinson, however, later died in a climbing accident on Mount McKinley in March of 2153. (ENT: "First Flight")
At the time of an initial Xindi attack on Earth, later that same year, the ship was still under construction (and unnamed), but was scheduled to be completed and launched by mid-2154. A tour of Columbia was taken by Captain Archer and Admiral Forrest shortly before Enterprise began a mission to find the Xindi, in the Delphic Expanse, and prevent them from destroying Earth. (ENT: "The Expanse") At one point during that mission, in early 2154, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed initially suggested that an NX-class starship encountered by Enterprise might be Columbia, only for Reed and the rest of Enterprise's senior staff to then discover that the ship in question wasn't Columbia but was actually an alternate version of Enterprise. (ENT: "E²")
Several months before launch, Columbia's commanding officer, Captain Hernandez, invited Captain Archer aboard to view construction efforts and to enlist his aid in crew selection. Archer suggested she consider a MACO as tactical officer, and also suggested modifications to the ship, including a larger arsenal with which to defend the ship. Captain Hernandez rejected the idea of a MACO on the bridge, while Captain Archer was discomforted by her somewhat positive attitude towards exploration and inexperience as a military commander when compared to his own experiences. (ENT: "Home")
Columbia was still understaffed prior to its launch. Captain Hernandez had twice offered Commander Charles Tucker III, chief engineer aboard Enterprise, a position aboard Columbia, which he had rejected. Following the Babel Crisis, however, Tucker finally accepted Hernandez's offer and requested a transfer to Columbia to help fulfill that ship's need for experienced officers. (ENT: "The Aenar") One of the first changes Captain Hernandez advised Tucker to make was to switch his uniform so its mission patch represented Columbia, not Enterprise. (ENT: "Affliction")
Tucker's hard driving work ethic prompted two crew members to unsuccessfully request transfer off the engineering team. Captain Hernandez refused these transfer requests stating that the engineering team was already short staffed. While Tucker said he may have "knocked some heads together" the ship would soon be warping out of dry dock. Commander Tucker was successful in repairing Columbia's engine problems, and the vessel was able to be launched on November 30th, 2154. (ENT: "Affliction", "Bound")
Soon after the launch of Columbia, the ship was called into service to assist Enterprise after that vessel had been sabotaged by Klingon forces. The two craft engaged in hazardous close-quarter maneuvering at warp 5.2, allowing Tucker to be transferred over to fix the problem. Columbia also assisted in recovering Doctor Phlox from Qu'Vat Colony, engaging in battle with several Klingon vessels. (ENT: "Divergence")
Compared to NX-class prototype Enterprise, Columbia possessed advanced polarized hull plating that was improved twelve percent above initial designs. (ENT: "Home") Additionally, the hull featured a larger, more rectangular navigational deflector, and a subtle blue tint (compared to Enterprise's slight red coloration). (ENT: "The Expanse", et al.)
Columbia also featured ventral and dorsal photonic torpedo launchers as well as pulsed phase cannons (a relatively new technology, at that time). Other improvements included improved computer interface technology and a modified bridge interior, utilizing stations that were tied directly into the primary EPS junction. (ENT: "Home") Compared to the bridge of Enterprise, Columbia's bridge featured several structural additions, such as four vertical bars of light behind the captain's chair and a computer monitor mounted on vertical metal tubes next to the helm. Computer consoles aboard Columbia were also different from those aboard Enterprise, in that they included a red, yellow and green color scheme instead of red, yellow and blue. Between Captain Archer's visit aboard the ship in 2154 and November of that year, the captain's chair as well as several cosmetic details on Columbia's bridge changed, mirroring alterations aboard Enterprise. (ENT: "Home", "Affliction")
- See: Columbia personnel
In the final draft script of ENT: "Desert Crossing" but not in the final version of that episode, Commander Tucker reckoned, "Won't be too long before the next warp five ship comes along, sets a new record..."
At a point when the ship was not yet named, Star Trek fan Anthony Davis of Brentwood, Tennessee, suggested to Rick Berman that the craft be named Columbia, in honor of the crew of a space shuttle which bore the same name. (Star Trek: Communicator issue 149, p. 14) The selection of this starship's name, mirroring the fact that the second space shuttle was named Columbia, followed on from the ship's NX-class predecessor having been named after space shuttle prototype Enterprise. The starship Columbia was given its name, by the creators of Star Trek: Enterprise, as a tribute to the STS-107 crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia. ("Before Her Time: Decommissioning Enterprise, Part Two: Memorable Voyages", ENT Season 4 Blu-ray special features; Star Trek Encyclopedia (4th ed., vol. 1, p. 154)) This shuttle and its crew were lost when the craft disintegrated, while attempting re-entry into Earth's atmosphere on 1 February 2003. Like Star Trek: Enterprise's Columbia assignment patch, the real STS-107 mission insignia featured seven background stars. Stars often represent the number of crew members on NASA mission insignia.
The Star Trek Encyclopedia (4th ed., vol. 1, p. 192) has an image of a dedication plaque for Columbia NX-02, which is similar to the plaque for Enterprise NX-01, but is blue, includes the ship's assignment patch in color, and uses the term starship instead of spacecraft for the registry number.
The CG model for Columbia was a modified version of the NX-01.
Columbia was originally to have appeared in an alternate timeline in ENT Season 3 installment "Twilight", though the parts it played in the episode were eventually rewritten for the Intrepid instead. ("Twilight" audio commentary, ENT Season 3 Blu-ray special features) As it turned out, Columbia was not mentioned by name until "E²", almost a full season after its initial appearance in "The Expanse".
In an ultimately excised scene extension from the final draft script of "Home", Archer asked Hernandez how soon Columbia's launch would be and Hernandez replied, "A few months... I hope. Forrest pushed back the launch date twice... we’ve had trouble with the intercooler matrix." After Archer suggested he might be able to help, Hernandez offered him a guided tour of the ship.
There was more than one link between Star Trek: Enterprise's Columbia and NASA. "NASA heard that [...] the show was naming the second [NX-class starship] Columbia," recalled Garfield Reeves-Stevens, "and we got feelers that the astronauts currently onboard space station wanted to record a little 'Godspeed to Columbia,' and, uh, just, it'd be a little fifteen-second thing that we could throw at the beginning of the episode." However, the supportive message was never recorded, because it was too much trouble to go through all the studio approval proceedings and because the corporation Paramount lacked enthusiasm for the idea, which clued the ENT writing staff into the fact that the series was about to be cancelled. ("Before Her Time: Decommissioning Enterprise, Part Two: Memorable Voyages", ENT Season 4 Blu-ray special features)
Columbia was originally to have featured in an ultimately unused story, featuring Colonel Green and written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens for the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise. ("Observer Effect" audio commentary, ENT Season 4 Blu-ray special features)
Columbia was also to have appeared (exterior only) in ultimately aborted film Star Trek: The Beginning, set in 2159. As portrayed in the first draft script of that film, the ship was undergoing a refit in the San Francisco Fleet Yards Drydock (a facility in orbit of Earth) when a photonic torpedo fired by a Romulan Bird-of-Prey landed a direct hit to Columbia's bridge deck, one of the initial attacks in the Earth-Romulan War. The ship was later referred to as having been "severely damaged".
According to the non-canon Star Trek: Ships of the Line book, Columbia disappeared near Tau Ceti. Her fate remained unknown until it was discovered that she somehow crashed on a desert planet in the Gamma Quadrant, and remained there for two centuries. This is depicted in the image "Resting Place" by Pierre Drolet.
The novel series Star Trek: Destiny is based upon the events surrounding the mysterious destruction of Columbia and the ship's final resting place shown in Ships of the Line, where she was discovered, intact, several days following the events of DS9: "Children of Time", by Benjamin Sisko and the crew of the USS Defiant. In the same novels, Columbia also featured heavily in the creation of the Borg Collective.
Alternatively, in the comic book "Captain's Pleasure", the second issue of IDW miniseries Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Space Between, it is established in dialogue that Columbia survived intact (perhaps at a museum) at least until the year 2296. In that year, a shuttlepod was stolen from it, and was discovered crashed at an archaeological ruins site by Jean-Luc Picard in 2368.
In the reference book Federation: The First 150 Years, the Columbia is mentioned as being destroyed during the Romulan War. The ship was trying to defend Starbase One, as well as buy time for the third Warp 5 starship, NX-03 Challenger to send a message to Starfleet Command. Captain Hernandez was killed along with all hands.