NASA celebrates the life and career of 'Star Trek' star Nichelle Nichols

"Star Trek" star and long-time diversity advocate Nichelle Nichols is warping toward retirement, and NASA made a video to say thank you.

Nichols, 88, made her last-ever public appearance at the L.A. Comic Con that concluded Sunday (Dec. 3), according to her website. Nicholas is best known for her role as communications officer Uhura in "The Original Series" (1966-69) at a time when few other Black women in television held such starring roles.

In recent years, media reports indicate she may have dementia and be caught in a conservatorship battle. But her influence was immense on the space community, NASA said. 

Related: Documentary explores 'Star Trek,' Nichelle Nichols and NASA's 1970s astronaut search

Nichelle Nichols, Uhura on "Star Trek," stars in the new documentary "Woman in Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek and the Remaking of NASA," which recounts her role in expanding diversity at NASA. (Image credit: Paramount+)

Long after that "Star Trek" show concluded, Nichols pivoted to advocating for a more diverse astronaut corps that included women and other races, culminating in a NASA-funded campaign to recruit the first women and Black astronauts in the 1970s.

"I first learned about 'Star Trek' through my mom," Tracy Drain, NASA flight systems engineer, said in the NASA video, posted on YouTube.

"She and her three sisters used to rush home to watch the original 'Star Trek' because of Nichelle Nichols. They really enjoyed seeing someone who looked like themselves portraying a character on TV like that," added Drain, who is Black.

The Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols was employed by NASA to recruit new astronauts into the late 1980s.

"Star Trek" actress Nichelle Nichols was employed by NASA to recruit new astronauts into the late 1980s. (Image credit: NASA) (Image credit: NASA.)

NASA's first female launch director, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, said that all women (as she is white) appreciated seeing Nichols in her technical role as Uhura.

"What I love about Nichelle Nichols is how she embraced the role," Blackwell-Thompson said in the video, "and how she portrayed us and gave us that roadmap for the future generation of women to follow. We definitely need more  characters like Uhura today."

The legacy of "Star Trek" is also stronger than ever, as the franchise has several active ongoing series: "Discovery," "Picard," "Lower Decks" and the newest recruit, the Captain Janeway-inspired "Prodigy" that launched earlier this fall. Janeway, portrayed by Kate Mulgrew, was the first starring female captain of the franchise during "Star Trek: Voyager" (1995-2001).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: