The name Columbia has a long and storied history dating back to the seafaring vessels of Earth, of which there are nine in recorded history.
A shuttlecraft from the United States of America space program was named Columbia (OV-102). The ship was first launched on April 12th, 1981 and went on to fly a total of 28 missions before being destroyed during re-entry on February 1, 2003. (Wikipedia)
Warp-capable vessels bearing the name Columbia date back to pre-Federation Starfleet and the NX-class Starship Program. The Starship Columbia (NX-02) was launched under the command of Captain Erika Hernandez in 2154 and saw less than ten years of service, as she and her crew disappeared without a trace in 2161. (Star Trek: Destiny: "Gods of Night", Star Trek: Between the Stars)
The first Federation starship to bear the name Columbia was a Hermes-class scout vessel (NCC-621), and was in service from the late 23rd century into the early 24th, when she was retired. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture)
The second USS Columbia to serve the Federation was an Excelsior-class vessel, commissioned in 2304. Starfleet chose to honor the ship’s NX-02 predecessor by giving her the registry number NCC-2154: the year the NX-02 was launched. This Columbia was lost to the Breen via an experimental weapon in 2358. (FASA RPG module: Federation Starship Recognition Manual, Star Trek: Between the Stars)
The third starship to bear the name Columbia was a Miranda-class cruiser (NCC-62154), launched in 2362. Along with 39 other ships, she was lost to the Borg in 2366 at Wolf 359. (Star Trek: Between the Stars)
It would be nearly six years before another Columbia was commissioned. In 2373, constructed at the Wolf 359 Memorial Fleet Yards, a Nebula-class starship was chosen to receive the name. Once again paying tribute to a preceding vessel, the newest Starship Columbia, the USS Columbia was listed with the registry number NCC-75102, after the shuttle OV-102. The ship's dedication plaque bears the statement "Sixth starship to bear the name" in further homage to the ill-fated shuttle and her crew. (Star Trek: Between the Stars)
Columbia (OV-102) was a key ship in real-world history:
- The Columbia Accident Investigation Board determined that a hole was punctured in the leading edge on one of Columbia's wings, made of a carbon-carbon composite. The hole had formed when a piece of insulating foam from the external fuel tank peeled off during the launch 16 days earlier and struck the shuttle's wing. During the intense heat of re-entry hot gases penetrated the interior of the wing, destroying the support structure and causing the rest of the shuttle to break apart.