The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-B) was a variant Excelsior-class starship, the third Federation starship to carry the prestigious name Enterprise.
The ship was built at the Antares Ship Yards; the decision to model the ship after the failed experiment USS Excelsior was highly controversial. However, Starfleet decided to use it for both economic and technical reasons, as Excelsior classes had shown that they could withstand the test of time; indeed, they would still be in service nearly a century after first being developed. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual)
The Enterprise-B was launched under the command of Captain John Harriman from a drydock orbiting Earth in 2293. The ship was christened with a bottle of Dom Pérignon, vintage 2265. Honored guests aboard for the ship's maiden voyage included Captains James T. Kirk, Montgomery Scott, and Commander Pavel Chekov, along with many journalists. The vessel was still incomplete at the time of launch and did not have a medical staff, photon torpedoes, or a tractor beam, all of which were scheduled for delivery the following Tuesday. The dignitaries were given a tour of the ship, which impressed even Scotty. Harriman requested that Captain Kirk give the order to get underway, and he accepted. Demora Sulu – a recent Academy graduate – served as helmsman, prompting Kirk to comment "It wouldn't be the Enterprise without a Sulu at the helm."
Her first journey was mostly for publicity purposes, and the ship was not scheduled to venture much past Pluto. However, the Enterprise-B was the only ship in range capable of responding to a distress call from two Federation transport ships, the Lakul and the Robert Fox. The ships, which were carrying El-Aurian refugees, had become trapped in an energy distortion called the Nexus. Because the Enterprise-B lacked equipment necessary to rescue the ships, the Robert Fox was destroyed before the Enterprise could transport its passengers. Only 47 were brought aboard from the Lakul before it, too, was destroyed. Chekov served as a makeshift medical officer, enlisting several journalists to help treat survivors including Guinan, future bartender on the USS Enterprise-D, and Tolian Soran.
The Enterprise itself became ensnared within the Nexus when she maneuvered within transporter range of the Lakul. Scotty devised a plan to use a resonance burst from the deflector dish in order to simulate an antimatter explosion and free the Enterprise. Kirk went to deflector control to make necessary modifications as the Enterprise's engineering hull was struck by an energy tendril; Harriman was going to do it himself, but Kirk took the role instead, deciding that Harriman was needed in the chair. The Enterprise escaped with minor casualties and a hull breach along sections 20 through 28 on decks 13 through 15. Kirk was believed killed in the breach, and the mission became notorious because of his loss.
In 2307, Enterprise underwent a rather extensive refit, possibly bringing it up to the standards of the new Romulan Ivarix-class vessels. (TLE novel: Serpents Among the Ruins)
Captain Harriman remained in command of Enterprise until 2311, when the ship played a key role during the Tomed Incident. Following the incident, Harriman stepped down, and command was given to his first officer, Demora Sulu. (TLE novel: Serpents Among the Ruins)
Sulu commanded the ship until 2315, when she took a leave of absence to care for her terminally-ill paternal grandmother. During this leave, Enterprise set off on a year-long exploration mission, which was wildly successful, and earned the new captain a promotion to admiral. Sulu then returned to the ship, and remained in command for several years thereafter. (TLE short story: "Iron and Sacrifice")
Other captains of the NCC-1701-B during its lifetime included Tomas Johnson, Jr.
Over the course of the Enterprise-B's service, it was remembered as a key figure in exploring beyond the Gourami Sector, mapping over 142 star systems and making first contact with 17 different civilizations. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual)
A sculpture of the Enterprise-B later adorned the wall of the observation lounge on the USS Enterprise-D during the first few years of that vessel's service.