How Nichelle Nichols Changed NASA

By Kayti Burt

A new documentary looks at the impact Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols has had on NASA’s space program.

It’s impossible to fully quantify the importance of seeing Nichelle Nichols’s Lieutenant Uhura, a Black woman, on the bridge of the starship Enterprise when Star Trek premiered in 1966.

She was a Black woman in a utopian future at a time when the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was in full swing.

When Nichols considered leaving Star Trek after the first season, Martin Luther King Jr. famously told the actress: “No, you cannot leave the show. It is too important.”

Nichols used her cultural power beyond the edges of the TV screen.

From the late 1970's until the late 1980's, Nichelle Nichols worked to recruit new astronaut candidates for NASA, with a particular focus on diversity.

Nichols was responsible for recruiting the first Black American astronaut to fly in space, Guion Bluford...

The first woman astronaut to go to space, Sally Ride...

As well as Judith Resnik, one of the first woman astronauts...

and Ronald McNair, the second Black American astronaut, both of whom died in the Challenger accident.

Mae Jemison, the first Black American woman in space, has cited Nichols as a major inspiration.

A new documentary, called Woman in Motion, looks at Nichols’ impact on the American space program.

Woman in Motion will be available to stream on Paramount+ on June 3rd.