According to the scenario, Kitty Hawk had a science mission in unexplored space (015.022) but it was lost: they arrived near a planet which suffered heavy nuclear orbital bombardment and its atmosphere burned away in atomic fire. The communications circuits were damaged in an ion storm. The crew left a message buoy and went on with their mission to 016.022.
The crew managed to make it into escape pods and before leaving a message buoy behind, they left towards sector 017.021. There, the escape pod was rescued by USS Banting, three weeks after its loss. (TOS video game: Starfleet Academy Starship Bridge Simulator)