Star Trek changed Nichelle Nichols' mind about the space program

The 'Star Trek' legend who spent her days in space once opposed the space program.

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Nichelle Nichols left a legacy while playing the role of Lt. Nyota Uhura on Star Trek: The Original Series. It's hard to imagine this sci-fi series queen in anything but space, but at one point in time, Uhura herself was a little skeptical of the space program. 

In a 1977 interview with The Herald-Sun, Nichols talked about her anti-space mindset before Star Trek. 

"I actually opposed the space program," she said. "I figured the money could be better used to clean up ghettos and to fight disease and poverty."

Being on Star Trek for Nichols was as life changing as seeing outer space in real life. Star Trek became more than just a piece of fiction for Nichols, and it helped change her mind about the real-life space pogram.

After the series ended, the Trekkie fandom began to ramp up. Nichols began traveling to and participating in Star Trek conventions and events. At one of them, a NASA representative spoke, capturing Nichols' attention.

"He turned me on to space," she said. "I have learned that many things that we now take for granted, even things like computers, originally came out of our space research."

She eventually came full circle and became a vital backer of the U.S. Space Program. Nichols started a company called Women In Motion in 1977. The company's basic function was to produce educational and motivational films and plays.

"They were disappointed with the number of applicants they were getting for space training," she said. "In the eight months before they hired me they had only 1,500 applicants and of that number, only 65 were women and only 35 were from minorities."

Nichols had taken on this side quest in hopes that she could bring in more applications with more diversity. She contacted universities, addressed conventions, made radio and TV appearances and became an all-around advocate for the space program, all while staying true to both herself and Uhura.

"By the time I had finished the assignment they had between 8,000 and 10,000 applicants," she said. "Including 1,500 women and almost 1,000 minorities. And I think that many of them will make it as astronauts."

There is no doubt that Nichols was an essential part of the space program, but the space program was also an essential part of her.

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19 Comments

joeyjoejoe 14 months ago
I have no Ill feelings about her , but she was originally correct, all that money could of been spent on the problems then so that they wouldn’t be problems now .but , it was a good show , and she was good in the part
RogerThat joeyjoejoe 14 months ago
It depends on what the money was used for. The money spent on improving satellites so we could get GPS, vastly improved weather monitoring and forecasts and in the agricultural field (pun intended) etc., I feel was well spent. The money spent on the so called "Space Race" to get man to the moon was nothing but a politcal thing to prove to the Russians that America still had that "can do" mentallity. In retrospect I feel that the money spent on the Apollo Progam could certainly have been put to better use.
ELEANOR joeyjoejoe 14 months ago
SEATBELTS!! No one had even heard of using seatbelts in cars back then as they were not even known or thought of until the space program. We all heard the newscasters intone, "They entered the space capsule and fastened their seatbelts." It didn't take too long for seatbelts to go from space capsules to cars.
CoreyC 14 months ago
Nichelle wanted to leave Star Trek but Martin Luther King talked her out of it.
Pacificsun CoreyC 14 months ago
MLK spoke in terms of inspiration, suggesting the impact she was making and could doing so. Meaning he (enabled) Ms. Nichols to make her own decision about staying. And 𝓼𝓱𝓮 should be credited for handling her own fate.
RogerThat 14 months ago
"She eventually came full circle". That means that her position on the subject returned to what it had been in the beginning. If a person changes their mind to that of completely opposite to their original position it's 180 degrees.

Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories by Nichelle Nichols - It's worth reading.
KJExpress RogerThat 14 months ago
Good pick up. I didn't even notice that when I first read the article. I will have to check out Nichelle's book.
RogerThat KJExpress 14 months ago
Perhaps the MeTV staff writers insert little things like that to see if readers are paying attention.
Pacificsun RogerThat 14 months ago
Called the "Space Race," and vying for the attention of Americans' natural competitiveness and entrepreneurial spirit, was the means to appropriating the investment. Rather than endless research, there had to be a payoff (a prize). In simple terms, was watching "a man" walk on the moon. What could be more obvious. I remember as a kid, thinking it incredible. Then seeing a moonrock in our museum. It was a tangible feeling.

Be assured that the government always has an ulterior motive. Remember again, the rival Nations weren't too far from the Cold War, and the very real threat, of being threatened. Every Apollo Engine that went into space, wasn't just for a "race" but to improve all that went into making that engine superior, for a lot of reasons. The entire process involved, incited people to gain skills in technology and math and science and medicine. A means to improving education (for a purpose). Imagine how many satellites are orbiting the earth, both offensively and defensively. Could the balance of power be maintained any other way??

More to the point, than even Ms. Nichols' vision of the future, was Mr. Shatner's observation of the present. Not only words fitting for his age, but nearly a century of witnessing societal and technical changes that have been exponentially explosive!

Be reminded of his (literal) vision, that of the fragility of this Earth. How fitting that the observation was begun as a vision of what the future holds, as coming from the creative mind of GR). Or that it would conclude right here on Earth, so profoundly simple. That if billions of dollars were spent ON the most pressing and altruistic of purposes, then we could work towards a fabled paradise right under our noses. We don't have to find it anywhere else. I dare say Mars.

A fitting article, in these times and in conclusion to the visionaries working in entertainment, who helped tease our imaginations, into examining the human condition, in the first place!

We should do their effort and wisdom, justice!
Pacificsun RogerThat 14 months ago
"We" always are!

And curiously, we've caught them reading our comments!! They're not quite as clandestine about it, as they used to be!
Pacificsun KJExpress 14 months ago
"... she said. 'I have learned that many things that we now take for granted, even things like computers, originally came out of our space research.'" "She eventually came full circle and became a vital backer of the U.S. Space Program."

Since that was the final conclusion, they meant to have said 180 degrees, and not sure if they understood the meaning of the phrase. But reading the paragraphs, that's what they meant.

They might go back in and change it, if they're currently reading the comments. But maybe not, because of the holiday week.
KJExpress Pacificsun 14 months ago
I know sometimes they do change things. It will be interesting to see if they do. 🤔
Pacificsun Pacificsun 14 months ago
They went back in and changed it, from 360 to full circle. Either they noticed, or they like reading comments regarding their own material.
Andybandit 14 months ago
She was good in ST. She was a good actress.
Zip 14 months ago
I knew it! Well, this confirms my theory that NASA colluded with the studio and Gene Roddenberry to get Nichelle Nichols a job on Star Trek so that she wouldn't be against the space program. Aha!
Pacificsun Zip 14 months ago
IMO, they weren't colluding about anything. The argument to be made is that many races were featured in ST, and shouldn't the visual include people of color. In some cases, cultures could be discerned by their last name. But the point is, that Lt. Nyota Uhura was among the commanding officers on the Bridge. And of course was featured prominently in the episode "Mirror, Mirror" demonstrating even greater capacity. In the original pilot, GR tried making Majel Barrett the acting Second Commander. But the Network pushed back, thinking it to radical a concept (for the times - which occurred a year earlier than the Pilot debuted (in terms of planning the concept). GR was pretty much his own man, who fought like a dog for every detail of ST, first year. He had the vision for spotting the right talent for the roles. If anything NASA would've recruited NN for promotional work. Also keep in mind, NN and GR had a (short) relationship before MB took a prominent position in GR's life. A𝒑𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒍𝒚 there were no hard feelings.
Zip Pacificsun 14 months ago
I didn't think I needed the sarcasm tags or the "wink" emoticon on that one, but....

You do know I was kidding, right?
Pacificsun Zip 14 months ago
Oh well that's fine! This forum is more about "conversation" than dispute. After all I left off my own smiley face too, so apologies for that! Sometimes I'll write a comment for the benefit of future Readers dropping in. Here's a bonus, because it's fun to share an experiences.

I 𝓫𝓮𝓵𝓲𝓮𝓿𝓮 though welcome correction, that In the day, there was an initial ST convention on the East Coast, and I can't speak to that one. I do know that in SF, there was a
ST convention at Lincoln High School, 10 blocks from where I lived. L.A. had their own by convenience and access. But the "Largest West Coast" (or so billed) was in Oakland, CA, with the major Stars.

The point is, there was one at the San Jose Convention Center, with NASA (I would say) hosting half of it, by giving information and encouraging recruiting. Which was attended by who we "thought" (at the time, with all apologies) didn't include the "major Stars," which given novel fan mentality at the time happen to be 𝒅𝒊𝒔𝒂𝒑𝒑𝒐𝒊𝒏𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒈. Little did we know, that Con was truly about pumping up enthusiasm for (wait for it!) NASA!!! It wasn't yet called Silicon Valley back then!

Hope I made up for my earlier shortcoming 😉
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