We’re big fans of “spacing out,” but more in the Neil deGrasse Tyson way than the “staring into nothingness and drooling a little” way. Outer space is still a cool thing to think about, and it’s fun to imagine having pen pals in orbit, or gravity-free 3D printers or even bada** women helping us see clear pictures of Pluto. If you ever dreamed about exploring the stars, it’s likely because you had a hero who inspired you.
For me, that hero was Lieutenant Uhura of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, was the communications specialist on board the Enterprise in the show Star Trek. The Hairpin reports that next month our girl Nichelle will actually get to ride on an official NASA flight. Nichelle blogged that she will be on board the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) mission. SOFIA is the “largest airborne observatory in the world, and makes observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest of ground-based telescopes.” According to the NASA website it is powerful enough to witness cool things like star birth and death, formations of new solar systems and black holes.
If SEEING FREAKING STARS BEING BORN is not enough to make this mission impressive, here are some facts about Nichelle herself that will prove she’s been a girl boss from way back.
She’s 82: Okay, homegirl is in her eighties and she’s going on a NASA mission. Even John Glenn, who is the oldest guy to ever go into space, was only 77. Also, Nichelle is recovering from a stroke she had in June. We find this impressive since we’re the type of person to get a paper cut and want to go to bed for the whole day. Next time you want to skip work because you have a hangover, think of Nichelle freaking Nichols!
She’s a major trailblazer for black actresses: Star Trek aired in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and was radical in a lot of ways. One of the most interesting things about the show was that it featured many people of color, including Nichelle. She was one of the first black women to have a major role on a television show who was powerful and not subservient. The character of Uhura is smart, but not cold and feminine but not a bimbo. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. personally praised her work for the progress she helped make by playing such a strong character. Every successful actress of color (including Zoe Saldana, who took up Nichelle’s role as Uhura in the Star Trek reboot) owes a debt to Nichelle and her peers.
She made television history: Apart from being generally cool for representing women of color on TV, Nichelle also participated in a show that made television history. Star Trek was always ahead of its time (I COULD WRITE A WHOLE ARTICLE JUST ON THAT) in terms of gadgets and concepts, but perhaps the biggest accomplishment of that show was that it featured the first inter-racial kiss ever seen on TV. Granted this kiss is not 100% perfect (in the context of the episode it’s not entirely consensual) but the fact that Nichelle participated in this groundbreaking event is pretty epic. Also in the pre-Priceline days, William Shatner was kind of a babe, so big ups to her for getting to kiss him.
She helped recruit women for NASA: Just playing an inspiring space explorer on television was not enough for Nichelle, so she decided to help real women get to space. She teamed up with NASA and started a company called Women in Motion that empowers women and minorities to become involved in aerospace careers. She helped recruit some seriously important astronauts like Guion Bluford, the first African American man in space, and SALLY FREAKING RIDE. Sorry for using shouty capitals so much, but we’re just so darn excited!
Nichelle’s mission is slated for September and she says she’s going to try to share it with us on social media, so stay tuned for a chance to boldly go along with her.
Favorite sci-fi heroine? Tell us in the comments and live long and prosper!
(Photos via Nichelle Nichols, Cindy Ord/Getty)