Under the command of Captain Georgiou, Shenzhou visited Vulcan in 2249 where it received its first officer – recent graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy, Michael Burnham. (DIS: "Battle at the Binary Stars")
The Crepusculan homeworld
In 2256, the Shenzhou conducted a mission to the Crepusculan homeworld, where a landing party revived a dry water well. Due to communications interference from a fast-moving storm, Captain Georgiou and Commander Burnham contacted the ship by making a Starfleet insignia in the desert sand, signaling the Shenzhou to fly into the planet's lower atmosphere and transport the officers from close range. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello")
The Battle of the Binary Stars
Following that mission, Shenzhou was dispatched to a binary star system on the outer edge of Federation space to investigate damage to an interstellar relay. After encountering a Klingon vessel, and ultimately a fleet, the Shenzhou was the first ship to be attacked in the Battle of the Binary Stars. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello", "Battle at the Binary Stars")
During the battle, Shenzhou took fire from multiple attackers, defending the crippled USS T'Plana-Hath before herself suffering heavy damage, losing shields and impulse engines. Adrift in the system's debris ring, the Shenzhou was rescued by the USS Europa, which used its tractor beam to prevent the Shenzhou from colliding with an asteroid. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello", "Battle at the Binary Stars")
Despite their ship being disabled, Captain Georgiou and the crew of the Shenzhou mounted an offensive against the Klingon capital ship, resulting in the crippling of its defenses and the death of its commander, T'Kuvma. Although Georgiou herself also was killed in the attack, the surviving members of the Shenzhou crew were able to escape, leaving the ship abandoned. (DIS: "The Vulcan Hello", "Battle at the Binary Stars")
The wrecked Shenzhou remained adrift for six months following the battle, at which point Klingons Voq and L'Rell boarded the ship in order to loot its dilithium processing unit with which to repair their own ship. Voq was later marooned aboard the Shenzhou by Kol and left to die, though Voq was rescued shortly afterward by L'Rell. (DIS: "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry")
A drawing of the Shenzhou was among several images of starships on display in the mess hall aboard the USS Discovery when Shenzhou survivor Michael Burnham joined that ship some months later. (DIS: "Context Is for Kings")
- Commanding officer
- First officer
- Michael Burnham (2250s–2256)
- Chief medical officer
- Nambue (2240s–2256)
- Operations officer
- Danby Connor (2250s–2256)
- Science officer
- Saru (2240s–2256)
- Communications officer
- Troy Januzzi (2250s–2256)
- Helm officer
- Keyla Detmer (2250s–2256)
- Tactical officer
- Kamran Gant (2250s–2256)
See also: USS Shenzhou personnel
Although it first appeared in "The Vulcan Hello", the Shenzhou's interior was shown in a chronologically earlier flashback sequence (in addition to later-set footage) in "Battle of the Binary Stars".
The set used as the Shenzhou bridge was one of the first sets which the Star Trek: Discovery production crew filmed on. ("Designing Discovery", DIS Season 1 DVD & Blu-ray special features) The set of the ship's interior was later reused as the interiors of the USS Glenn and USS Discovery, with just a few changes. (AT: "Context Is for Kings") The bridge set was used as the bridge of the USS Gagarin in the episode "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum", which also featured the Gagarin represented by a graphic of a Walker-class starship on monitors aboard Discovery. 
David Mack, who wrote the Pocket DIS novel Desperate Hours, developed the characters and even the names of a number of the Shenzhou background crew. He noted that "Most of them I developed on my own, along with detailed character bios, backstories, quirks, interests, etc. Those were then submitted to the show via Kirsten Beyer for approval. Some, such as Gant, Detmer, and Jannuzzi [sic], ended up being used on the show. (A few, like Connor and Britch Weeton, were established by the show's writers.) Also, Kirsten tells me that the Shenzhou bridge crew actors were given my bios of their characters to provide a foundation for their performances." 
The Shenzhou computer voice was provided by Tasia Valenza, who previously appeared in TNG: "Coming of Age" as T'Shanik. Valenza is the first actor from previous Star Trek installments to appear on Star Trek: Discovery.
The ship appears to be named after the 20th-century Chinese spacecraft, or the Chinese space program in the 20th and 21st centuries of that same name. The name can be somewhat translated as "Divine Vessel".
The Pocket DIS novel Desperate Hours establishes that Burnham's predecessor as first officer was Sonnisar ch'Theloh (β), who served in that role from 2251 to 2255 before accepting a post as commanding officer of the starship Tereshkova (β), the Shenzhou's second officer Itzel Garcia (β) joining ch'Theloh as his first officer. It also establishes that both the Shenzhou and the USS Enterprise fell under Admiral Anderson's jurisdiction.