On July 30, the world lost one of its brightest lights when "Star Trek" royalty Nichelle Nichols, known around the galaxy as Communications Officer Lt. Nyota Uhura, passed away at the age of 89 in Silver City, New Mexico.
Although she had been a tireless champion of human spaceflight and the recruitment of minority astronauts for decades, she never had the opportunity to travel into space herself while alive. But now her cremated remains will be heading into the heavens thanks to the Texas-based company Celestis (opens in new tab).
Celestis provides "memorial spaceflight services" for people who want to celebrate the life of a loved one with an off-Earth experience. And today (Aug. 25) it was announced that Nichols was selected to be honored on Celestis' first-ever deep space mission: Her cremated remains and a DNA sample will be aboard the company's upcoming "Enterprise Flight (opens in new tab)".
Nichols’ legacy includes being the first black woman in a leading role on a network TV series. She was a beacon of hope for breaking racial barriers and entrenched societal stereotypes as an inspiration to all.
Between 1977 and 2015, she served as NASA's recruiter in chief and spokesperson to discover viable female and minority candidates for the space shuttle program. Her extraordinary efforts boosted NASA's female astronaut candidates from 100 to 1,649 and the number of minority recruits from 35 to over 1,000.
"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. Nichelle’s advocacy transcended television and transformed NASA," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement shortly Nichols' death (opens in new tab).
"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," Nelson added. "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."
Blasting off later this year atop United Launch Alliance's appropriately named Vulcan rocket, Nichols' cremated remains will be accompanied by those of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry, feisty "Star Trek" engineer James "Scotty" Doohan, and "2001: A Space Odyssey" VFX wizard Douglas Trumbull, among others.
"We are truly honored to add a legendary actress, activist, and educator to the Enterprise Flight manifest," Charles Chafer, co-founder and CEO of Celestis, said in a statement. "Now our Enterprise Flight will have on board the person who most completely embodied the vision of 'Star Trek' as a diverse, inclusive, and exploring universe."
The Enterprise Flight (opens in new tab) will travel 93 million miles to 186 million miles (150 million to 300 million kilometers) into deep space beyond the Earth-moon system. The memorial mission will launch more than 200 flight capsules containing cremated ash remains, special messages and greetings and DNA samples from global clients on a timeless odyssey into interplanetary space.
That's not the main purpose of the flight; Vulcan's main job involves sending Pittsburgh company Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander toward the moon.
But Vulcan's Centaur upper stage will keep on trucking into deep space, entering an orbit around the sun and eventually becoming a remote outpost known as Enterprise Station. Nichols will also be joined by her son, Kyle Johnson, who will submit his own DNA sample, allowing him to take this rare journey with his mother.
"My only regret is that I cannot share this eternal tribute standing beside my mother at the launch," Johnson said in a statement. "I know she would be profoundly honored for this unique experience and enthusiastically encourage all of her fans to join us vicariously by contributing your thoughts, affections, memories, NN inspired successes, dreams and aspirations via email to be launched with her on this flight! WOW!"
Fans everywhere will be able to celebrate Nichols' life by submitting their name and tributes to her for free on Celestis' website (opens in new tab). All names and messages received will be digitized and launched into the cosmos.