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 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 launchEdit
Columbia 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 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")
Tucker's work ethic prompted two crew members to unsuccessfully 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, 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.
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")
Background information Edit
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) 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.
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, 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 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)
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).
According to the non-canon Star Trek: Ships of the Line book, 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 Ezri Dax and the crew of the USS Aventine.
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.