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Nichelle Nichols: Uhura Full of Firsts


We all know and love Nichelle Nichols from her role on the original Star Trek as Lt. Uhura, the communications officer on board the Enterprise. But did you know that had it not been for a huge Trekkie that she would have only lasted one season on the show?

As the actress herself tells the story: “I went in to tell Gene Roddenberry that I was leaving after the first season, and he was very upset about it. And he said, take the weekend and think about what I am trying to achieve here in this show. You’re an integral part and very important to it. And so I said, yes, I would.

And on that Saturday night, I went to an NAACP fundraiser. And one of the promoters came over to me and said, Ms. Nichols, there’s someone who would like to meet you. He says he is your greatest fan. And I’m thinking a Trekker, you know. And I turn, and before I could get up, I looked across the way and there was the face of Dr. Martin Luther King smiling at me and walking toward me. And he started laughing. By the time he reached me, he said, yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan. I am that Trekkie. I was speechless. He complimented me on the manner in which I’d created the character. I thanked him, and I think I said something like, Dr. King, I wish I could be out there marching with you. He said, no, no, no. No, you don’t understand. We don’t need you on the – to march. You are marching. You are reflecting what we are fighting for. So, I said to him, thank you so much. And I’m going to miss my co-stars.

And his face got very, very serious. And he said, what are you talking about? And I said, well, I told Gene just yesterday that I’m going to leave the show after the first year because I’ve been offered – and he stopped me and said: You cannot do that. And I was stunned. He said, don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen. He says, do you understand that this is the only show that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to stay up and watch. I was speechless.

So had it not been for the great Dr. King, none of us may remember Nichelle Nichols. But her part in Civil Rights cannot be understated. She really was the FIRST African-American woman to have a prominent role in a television show. While today we may find it a little hard to comprehend, back in 1966 it was a huge deal.

Now she is ready to have another FIRST in her life, and while this may not have the impact that playing Uhura had, it is almost as cool.

Nichols will join the crew of the SOFIA (Stratospheric Infrared Observatory) aircraft on Sept. 17, becoming among the first non-essential personnel to experience NASA’s newest telescope.

SOFIA, a modified Boeing 747 aircraft, hosts a 100-inch telescope that is used to look at the universe for a few hours at a time during flight, complementing orbital telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer space telescope.

No truth to the rumor however that Scotty will beam her on board, but I wouldn’t venture to guess what Captain Kirk may do, Travelocity may have a stake in this flight!


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