Classified as a survey ship, the Ariel had a crew of six scientists who were described as a "scientific contact team".
In 2269, the Ariel was on a survey mission to planet Lactra VII under the command of Lieutenant Commander Tom Markel. When a three-person landing party went missing on the surface, Markel ignored Starfleet orders and beamed to the surface with his remaining crew, biologist Randi Bryce and navigator Nancy Randolph.
Six weeks later, the abandoned Ariel was found in orbit by the crew of USS Enterprise, who searched the ship and its log entries. An Enterprise landing party subsequently discovered and managed to free the crew from a Lactran zoo. (TAS: "The Eye of the Beholder")