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, would die in a climbing accident on Mount McKinley in March of 2153. (ENT: "First Flight")
At the time of the Xindi attack on Earth, later that same year, the ship was still under construction (and unnamed), but scheduled to be completed and launched by mid-2154. After several delays, it was launched in late November of that year. (ENT: "The Expanse", "Affliction")
Several months before launch, Columbia's commanding officer, Captain Erika Hernandez invited Captain Jonathan 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. (ENT: "Home")
Construction and launch
The ship was still understaffed prior to its launch. Captain Hernandez had twice offered Commander Charles Tucker, chief engineer aboard Enterprise, a position aboard Columbia, which he rejected. Following Enterprise's mission to Andoria in late 2154, 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")
Tucker's work ethic prompted two crew members to request transfer off the engineering team. However, he was successful in fixing 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, she was called into service to assist Enterprise after that vessel had been sabotaged by Klingon forces. The two crafts 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.
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 an upgraded navigational deflector, improved computer interface technology and a modified bridge interior, utilizing stations that were tied directly into the primary EPS junction. (ENT: "Home")
Spaceframe and major structural elements of the NX-02, however, were generally identical to that of her predecessor.
The CG model for Columbia was a modified version of the NX-01, featuring a larger, more rectangular deflector dish, and a subtle blue tint to its hull (compared to Enterprise's slight red coloration).
The bridge of the NX-02 was a redress of that of the NX-01. It featured 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. These were set pieces that had been previously been used in the episode "E²", on the bridge of the "future" Enterprise of that installment.
The previously mentioned computer monitor on vertical metal tubes reappeared aboard another "future" Enterprise, in "These Are the Voyages...".
Columbia's engine room was also a redress of that seen aboard Enterprise, with only minor details added to the bulkheads.
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. This color scheme matches that seen on computer consoles in Star Trek: The Original Series, an homage to that series and a suggestion of advancement in technology. This was, however, also seen on a "future" Enterprise, when it was used in "Twilight".
While Hernandez's crew was never fleshed out in an episode, judging from those present on the bridge, it is safe to conclude that no Vulcans were included in the senior staff.
Seth MacFarlane (also known as the creator of FOX's Family Guy) appears aboard Columbia as an engineer. He had previously appeared as an engineer aboard Enterprise in "The Forgotten", suggesting that his character transferred between the two vessels (that is, if both appearances were intended to be of the same character).
Between "Home" and "Affliction", the captain's chair as well as several cosmetic details on the bridge changed, mirroring the change aboard Enterprise between the episodes "Home" and "Borderland".
Despite Captain Hernandez's suggestion to Tucker that he should update his uniform to include the Columbia mission patch, he can be seen wearing an environmental suit bearing the Enterprise logo in "Divergence". As the scene in question focuses on getting Tucker from Columbia to Enterprise, the only explanation is that Tucker must have taken his EV suit with him when he came aboard Columbia (or maybe Columbia just has a stock of Enterprise-patched suits).
The selection of this ship's name mirrors the fact that the second space shuttle was named Columbia, following on from the prototype Enterprise. It is understood that the ship was given the name, by the creators of Star Trek: Enterprise, as a tribute to the STS-107 crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia. This shuttle and its crew were lost when the craft disintegrated, while attempting re-entry in to Earth's atmosphere on February 1, 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 insignias.
According to the non-canon Star Trek: Ships of the Line book, the Columbia crashed on a desert planet in the Gamma Quadrant, and remained there for two centuries. It was discovered, intact, several days following the events of "Children of Time", by Jadzia Dax and the crew of the USS Defiant.
The novel series Star Trek: Destiny is based upon the events surrounding the mysterious destruction of the Columbia and the ship's final resting place. The Columbia also featured heavily in the creation of the Borg Collective.
Alternatively, in "Captain's Pleasure", the second issue of IDW's miniseries Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Space Between, it is established in dialog 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.