One of my favorite pass times as a child was watching reruns of Star Trek The Original Series with my big brother. Even though the show originally aired some 20 years prior, it felt fresh and new because the subject matter catapulted me into a world of science, fiction, enlightenment, and wonder. Travelling with the crew of the USS Enterprise – NCC-1701 allowed me to escape the confines of my home/neighborhood and dream about places humans could venture to one day and technology that would soon come. Star Trek was my first foray into the awe-inspiring world of science-fiction. A geekette at heart, I’ve collected some of the best sci-fi films ever made and I’m proud to say, despite my outward appearance, I’m a Trekkie.
|Listen to author and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson discuss “Why Exploring Space Still Matters” on NPRs Morning Edition | Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, a Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, host of the educational science television show NOVA scienceNOW, and host of sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage TV series.|
This brings me to my tribute, in honor of Black History month, to Nichelle Nichols (aka Nyota Uhura), the first black woman featured in a major U.S. television series not portraying a servant. Nichols played the chief communications officer Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek series, airing between ’66 – ’69. Her role marked a watershed moment in American television history because she was the first woman of color to portray a powerful, educated, military trained scientists and engineer who commanded, and received, as much respect as her predominantly white male cast members.
Uhura and Captain Kirk pushed the envelope even further in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” when they sealed it with a kiss, making it the first example of an inter-racial kiss on U.S. TV. She reprieved her role in the cerebral Star Trek: The Animated Series, which I highly recommend, and actually commanded the Enterprise in the episode “The Lorelei Signal.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Ten years after the show ended, NASA hired Nichols to assist in the recruitment of people of color and women to apply to the astronaut training program after calling NASA on the carpet for rejecting qualified applicants of color and women. Some of her notable recommendations were Dr. Mae Jemison (inspired by Nichols to become an astronaut), Charles Bolden, Sally Ride and Drs. Judith Resnik and Ronald McNair (both of whom perished in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in ’86).
Thank you Ms. Nichols for being an inspiration and giving generations of people like myself hope!