The Enterprise-B was launched under the command of Captain John Harriman from a drydock orbiting Earth in 2293. The ship was christened with a bottle of Dom Pérignon, vintage 2265. Honored guests aboard for the ship's maiden voyage included Captains James T. Kirk, Montgomery Scott, and Commander Pavel Chekov, along with many journalists. The vessel was still incomplete at the time of launch and did not have a medical staff, photon torpedoes, or a tractor beam, all of which were scheduled for delivery the following Tuesday. The dignitaries were given a tour of the ship, which impressed even Scotty. Harriman requested that Captain Kirk give the order to get underway, and he accepted. Demora Sulu – a recent Academy graduate – served as helmsman, prompting Kirk to comment "It wouldn't be the Enterprise without a Sulu at the helm."
Her first journey was mostly for publicity purposes, and the ship was not scheduled to venture much past Pluto. However, the Enterprise-B was the only ship in range capable of responding to a distress call from two Federation transport ships, the SS Lakul and the SS Robert Fox. The ships, which were carrying El-Aurian refugees, had become trapped in an energy distortion called the Nexus. Because the Enterprise-B lacked equipment necessary to rescue the ships, the Robert Fox was destroyed before the Enterprise could transport its passengers. Only 47 were brought aboard from the Lakul before it, too, was destroyed. Chekov served as a makeshift medical officer, enlisting several journalists to help treat survivors including Guinan, future bartender on the USS Enterprise-D, and Tolian Soran.
The Enterprise itself became ensnared within the Nexus when she maneuvered within transporter range of the Lakul. Scotty devised a plan to use a resonance burst from the deflector dish in order to simulate an antimatter explosion and free the Enterprise. Kirk went to deflector control to make necessary modifications as the Enterprise's engineering hull was struck by an energy tendril; Harriman was going to do it himself, but Kirk took the role instead, deciding that Harriman was needed on the bridge, and in the chair. The Enterprise escaped with minor casualties and a hull breach along sections 20 through 28 on decks 13 through 15. Kirk was believed killed in the breach, and the mission became notorious because of his loss. (Star Trek Generations)
The Enterprise-B was a reuse of the USS Excelsior model designed by Bill George for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The miniature was given several modifications designed by John Eaves and Herman Zimmerman, including an extra set of impulse engines on the saucer section, flares on the side of the engineering hull, new caps on the front of the warp nacelles, and fins on the back of the nacelles. The blue accents on the ship were repainted to a teal color. The flares were added for the specific purpose of damaging them during the Nexus escape sequence and as a way to keep the Excelsior model beneath undamaged. The modifications were also by request of producer Rick Berman, who felt the Excelsior design had been overused in the previous motion pictures and in the television series. The NCC-1701-B was also rendered as a CGI model for certain sequences within the Nexus. As it turned out, the glue used to attach the additional parts did in fact damage the original model, so the modifications were never removed. The physical model was later relabeled to become the USS Lakota in "Paradise Lost".
The bridge was a redress of the USS Enterprise-A bridge from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which was also seen as the Amargosa observatory in Star Trek Generations. The sickbay was the drydock observation area seen earlier in the film, while deflector control was a new set.
The Enterprise-B was established as an Excelsior-class ship during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation when a series of relief sculptures depicting the history of the Enterprise name was added to the USS Enterprise-D conference lounge set. They were present for the first four years of the series and a flashback during TNG: "All Good Things..." The sculpture used represented the original Excelsior design. However, the accurate models in the lounge of the USS Enterprise-E for Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek Nemesis showed the Enterprise-B as it was in Generations. Furthermore, the USS Enterprise-C sculpture also differed from the final Template:ShipClass design, meaning the sculptures were probably meant to be abstract.
The model of the Enterprise-B (Lot #998) was sold at the 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection auction on October 7, 2006 for US$132,000 including the buyer's premium (the winning bid was US$110,000).
According to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, the Enterprise-B was involved in exploration beyond the Gourami sector, charting 142 star systems and making first contact with seventeen new civilizations prior to her decommissioning.
The Enterprise-B is involved in:
- The novel The Captain's Daughter by Peter David
- The PC-based simulation Star Trek: Starship Creator
- The Lost Era novel Serpents Among the Ruins by David R. George III
- The short story "Iron and Sacrifice", from the Tales from the Captain's Table anthology, also by David George
Which provide the following timeline:
- 2301 - Demora Sulu is promoted to first officer.
- 2311 - Following the Tomed Incident with the Romulan Star Empire, Captain Harriman steps down, and Demora Sulu is promoted to captain.
- 2315 - Captain Sulu gives up command – for one year – to care for her terminally-ill paternal grandmother, Hana Shimizu.
- 2320 - Captain Peter A. Elston assumes command of the Enterprise-B.
- 2332 - The Enterprise-C is commissioned. (Well of Souls)
This leaves even the non-canon fate of the Enterprise-B uncertain, but her destruction/decommissioning would fall within the years 2316–2331. The USS Enterprise-D cut-away poster lists a Captain Tomas Johnson, Jr. for the Enterprise-B. He may have captained the ship during Demora Sulu's leave of absence. The UK short story "Gateway to the Future" implies that the Enterprise-B was destroyed by asteroid bombardment near Mars, though most of the crew survived.