Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in Star Trek, has died of natural causes at the age of 89. A pioneering black actress, she later worked for NASA to encourage more women and people of color to go to space.
While Nichols was not the first African-American woman on US television, she was the first in a regular high-profile role playing a character in a position of authority.
She famously once considered leaving the show to pursue roles in theater only to be introduced to Dr Martin Luther King Jr at an event. He persuaded her to stay in the role to help overcome stereotypes. He also pointed out that the nature of Star Trek meant there was no necessity for any replacement character to also be female or black, or indeed a human.
In 1977, Nichols was also the star of a promotional film aimed at recruiting more diverse candidates for the NASA space programs. The following year, NASA’s astronaut intake included Guy Bluford and Sally Ride, who went on to be the first black and female American astronauts respectively.
We celebrate the life of Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek actor, trailblazer, and role model, who symbolized to so many what was possible. She partnered with us to recruit some of the first women and minority astronauts, and inspired generations to reach for the stars. pic.twitter.com/pmQaKDb5zw
— NASA (@NASA) July 31, 2022