Star Trek’s Uhura to boldly go where few actors have before for NASA

4 Aug 2015

Nichelle Nichols, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in 2010. Image via NASA/Bill Ingalls

Actor Nichelle Nichols — best known for her role as Uhura on the original Star Trek series — is about to go where few actors have gone before, that being on a NASA mission to experience its latest telescope.

Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura – one of the first prominent black female lead roles on TV at that time – is widely considered to be one of the biggest sources of inspiration for many women, particularly black women, to want to become astronauts, including former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison.

Now the 82-year-old actor has confirmed during a recent Reddit AMA that she will be working with NASA, not in some Star Trek-like deep space mission, but as a participant on NASA’s latest airborne telescope, SOFIA.

The modified Boeing 747 will fly high in the air to capture some of the best views of the universe with its built-in 2.5m telescope as part of an 80/20 partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

Speaking on Starpower – a new website created to help celebrities fund some of their favourite projects – Nichols further explained her role on the mission: “I am honoured to say that I will be among the first non-essential personnel to experience NASA’s newest telescope: SOFIA.

“On 15 September, I’ll board a special 747 with a very specially built telescope integrated into the fuselage, taking off at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center near Palmdale, California.”

This actually marks the second time that Nichols will participate in not just a NASA mission but this particular flying observatory, having been aboard the aircraft as part of the first generation Keiper Airborne Observatory in the mid-1970s.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic