The Columbia class represents the United Earth Starfleet’s decision to upgrade and refit their successful NX class ship at a time when United Earth Commonwealth found itself engaging in many conflicts with nearby neighbours. This expansion in size, crew complement, and mission capabilities paved their way to eventually become one of the leading ship classes for Starfleet in the early years of the United Federation of Planets and a key ancestor of some of the service’s most famous cruisers.
Exploration and Science
At the time the design was used, the Columbia class represented the pinnacle of modern starship design technology. As a result of the added room and space, ships of this configuration can spend longer on exploration and scientific projects. Improved computer data processing units allow for multiple simultaneous experiments and investigations. The space for a range of mission-specific probes ensures they can collect data on a variety of spatial anomalies and bodies without relying on the ship’s vast senior array.
For the first time, several dedicated VIP guest quarters were created to allow for the Columbia class to host vital diplomatic talks. In the 2250s, captains acted as figureheads and representatives of Starfleet with no diplomatic service behind them but found themselves lacking space and resources on the NX class. The refit committed to correcting this.
VIP quarters are almost as big as the senior staff quarters. The bigger conference room (or state room as they are nicknamed) gives the opportunity for more people to congregate as well as provide space for functions like state dinners. Multiple computer interfaces provide accessibility for attendees to view or access briefing information or addresses.
The proven design of the famed Warp 5 engine was retained by Starfleet, still several years away from testing and developing the Warp 7 engine. Design features of the NX class in the warp drive’s position and engine room were carried over to the Columbia following positive feedback from seasoned engineering crews.
To support both the warp and impulse engines, a secondary computer core was installed in the stardrive section. This allowed the pressure of operating the two engines to be lifted from the main computer core (located in the saucer section) and allocated to other systems. In emergencies, either computer core could take over from the other with a subsequent impact upon efficiency of ship’s systems.
The extra space also allowed for further fuel reserves and supplies to be added, allowing the ship to survive out in the wilderness of space by itself for longer periods of time.
The well-tested and reliable computer systems are a key element of the class’s success. Instead of matching the sophisticated touch-screen systems of the Confederacy of Vulcan or Andorian Empire, the more rudimentary buttons, levers, and keyboards to access a range of systems has proven to reduce maintenance requirements. Additionally, by 2156 Starfleet proved their computer systems could better defend against the Romulan use of tele-presence capturing devices. Though these systems were a generation behind those of Earth’s allies, their simplicity proved an advantage.
Another unique feature is the additional transporter bay located in the secondary hull. This, alongside the one located in the primary hull, allows for more equipment and personnel to be transferred.
As this design was rushed out during the Romulan War, Starfleet needed to ensure the longevity and survival of its fleet. As such, the class has two deflector dishes, discovered to improve a starship’s capacity to sustain its cruising speed for longer by reducing space dust penetration of the warp field. The loss of one deflector dish accordingly reduces the Columbia’s capacity to maintain higher speeds.
While unable to match the tactical abilities of the Yorktown class, the Columbia refit improved upon the capabilities of the NX. With additional defensive coverage, especially in the aft, the ship was capable of staying longer in the fight. Even though Starfleet has yet to perfect starship-based energy shielding, the Columbia’s power systems allow for hull polarisation system to be more effective. Storage for more torpedoes further enhances this increase in durability with greater firepower.
A new addition is the designated facilities for the MACO detached unit. Originally sharing resources with armoury departments on NX classes, MACO leaders reported difficulties with their lack of room to train their teams, though the subsequent shared training did improve cohesion between personnel. A large bunk room was designed on the Columbia for most of the MACO unit, with officers’ quarters for senior members. A dedicated briefing room and training areas were created, but this did not stop either MACO or Starfleet personnel from working together.
Another area in which this design exceeds others is the space for the crew. Larger quarters with impressive views are given to the ship’s senior staff, while those who hold the rank of ensign and above normally have their own quarters. Enlisted crew still share, though the need for more than six people to share cramped quarters is no longer needed, outside of the MACO bunk rooms.
The size and comfort of the Columbia class foster a familial bond among the crew, as well as the varied and often challenging nature of its missions. As the most powerful ship in Starfleet at its initial launch, the Columbias saw extensive action in the Romulan War, necessitating strong unit cohesion and sense of mission, and requiring captains with a range of experiences and training.
In addition to the same facilities offered by the NX, the Columbia has additional space for the galley, mess hall, and captain’s private dining room. The Columbia also features a library, a small space to easily and privately access the ship’s databanks. Sickbay is configured exactly the same as the NX class, though the nearby recovery ward is larger and the ship’s medical staff has room for two doctors along with several nurses and support staff. The captain’s office, just off from the bridge was made slightly bigger and included the use of a private bathroom.
One additional design bonus is on the bridge. Behind the captain’s chair sits a display with the ship’s master situation diagram on a large screen, separating the situation room. The complexities of the Columbia’s systems necessitated new bridge stations, most notably separating navigation from the duties of the helm. Now the pilot and navigator are situated side by side at the front of the bridge, a design that eventually became standard across Starfleet ships as technological developments were implemented across the fleet.
By 2154, the designs for the refit were being put into place. System operation data coming back from Enterprise (NX-01) highlighted the need for drastic improvements. Minor updates were made to Columbia (NX-02), but with the Romulan War Starfleet committed to building its initial wave of NX class starships according to original specifications.
With the backbone of its fleet constructed, Starfleet returned to the refit designs so their ships would not be completely overwhelmed by superior Romulan technology. After an extensive battle against the Romulans in mid-2156, Starfleet ordered Columbia to return to dry-docks for repairs and the upgrades. It took almost six months to make the alterations, but by the end of the year Columbia was back out in the fight. The refit was named after the NX-02.
It was decided to next upgrade Challenger (NX-03) and Endeavour (NX-06). While they undertook their refits, the other NXclass ships took over their duties, defending the border and holding the line. By 2157, a majority of the first batch of NX class ships were upgraded. These ships proved their worth during countless engagements against the Romulans.
By the end of the war, it was decided that Columbia class ships would provide the template for the future of Earth’s deep space exploration, as a design capable of multiple missions. Even though the NX class was still in service, their successor generation soon took over as the flagship of the fleet for the next twenty-fifty years.
- The Columbia, in the 22nd century, is the most advanced ship in Starfleet based on its reliable systems that have been used in other classes prior. A versatile design, these ships are able to hold their ground longer compared to other ships of Earth design.
- The class came into effect in 2156, as such between this date up until the end of the war they were often found on the frontlines but not in large groups. They were always leading a task force. Not many were made due to resources being spent on the Daedalus class.
- A majority of those who command this class will find that they are highly trained and experienced captains, a Columbia class is normally their second command if they had not served on an NX class or the current ship as the first officer.