Nichelle Nichols helped NASA break boundaries on Earth and in space

Actor Nichelle Nichols, who died July 30, 2022, didn’t just break new ground on “Star Trek” by playing one of the first leading recurring Black female characters on U.S. television.

A decade after the show ended, she did the same for NASA, appearing in a promotional film aimed at recruiting women and people of color to apply to be astronauts, as she recounted in a2012 visit to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Famed TV actress Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lt. Uhura on the original 1960s Star Trek television series, autographs a poster for her Women’s History Month luncheon presentation at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center on the theme of “Women’s Education, Women’s Empowerment,” in 2012. (NASA Photograph by TomTschida)

The nextastronaut class, appointed in 1978, included Guy Bluford, the first Black American in space, and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

NASA Adminstrator Bill Nelson remembered Nichols in a statement:

“Nichelle Nichols was a trailblazing actress, advocate and dear friend to NASA. At a time when Black women were seldom seen on screen, Nichelle’s portrayal as Nyota Uhura on Star Trek held a mirror up to America that strengthened civil rights,” said Administrator Bill Nelson. “Nichelle’s advocacy transcended television and transformed NASA. After Apollo 11, Nichelle made it her mission to inspire women and people of color to join this agency, change the face of STEM and explore the cosmos. Nichelle’s mission is NASA’s mission. Today, as we work to send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon under Artemis, NASA is guided by the legacy of Nichelle Nichols.”

Nichols and NASA crossed paths many times over the years. Astronauts and other employees cited Nichols’ performance as Uhura as one of the reasons they wanted to join the agency.

In March 2012, Nichols was a featured Women’s History Month presenter at NASA Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center, Edwards, Cali.


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