The SS Columbia was a Federation survey ship in service in the 23rd century. The Columbia was launched from Earth before the breaking of the time barrier, making it significantly slower than the later Constitution-class starships. The Columbia also used a radio wave transmitter for distress signals that were designed to cause interference that registered on starship sensors as unidentified objects travelling at the speed of light.
In 2236, the Columbia was transporting Doctor Theodore Haskins and a team of scientists from the American Continent Institute. In this year, the Columbia was travelling through the Talos star group when it crashed on the planet Talos IV, with crewmember Vina the only survivor.
Eighteen years later, the USS Enterprise detected what appeared to be a distress signal from the Columbia coming from Talos IV. Captain Christopher Pike led a landing party to the planet's surface and discovered a group of survivors, but it was soon revealed that they were elaborate illusions created by the Talosians, for the purpose of kidnapping Captain Pike.