Family and friends of the late Nichelle Nichols are ensuring her legacy will live on with the launch of a new foundation in her name. Launched on what would have been her 90th birthday, the Nichell Nichols Foundation is dedicated to increasing inclusivity and diversity in STEAM (Science, Technology, Enginering, Art & Mathematics) education.

Nichelle Nichols (1932-2022) was an actress, a singer, a role model, and a trailblazer. The impact she had during her lifetime on the advancements in the arts and in the space sciences are impossible to overstate.

Nichelle Nichols has a place on that list of people who deserve to be remembered, or at least she should. The Nichelle Nichols Foundation (NNNF) is attempting to do just that.

 In 1977, Ms. Nichols began an association with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, contracting as a representative and speaker to help recruit female and minority candidates for spaceflight training; the following year’s class of astronaut candidates was the first to include women and members of minority groups.

Almost everyone has heard Whoopi Goldberg’s account of how the first time she saw Star Trek, she ran to her mother, yelling, there’s a Black Lady on TV and she ain’t no maid.” Cite source. Most people have heard that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. encouraged her to stay with Star Trek when she thought of quitting the show and returning to musical theater. Not everyone is aware that Nichelle Nichols was involved in recruiting for NASA, specifically in recruiting females and racial minorities.

“Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics and you’ll get ten different answers, but there’s one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won’t just take us. It’ll take Marilyn Monroe and Lao-Tzu, Einstein, Morobuto, Buddy Holly, Aristophanes … and all of this … all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars.”

J. Michael Straczynski
President Obama and Nichelle Nichols flash the Vulcan greeting.
President Barack H. Obama and Nichelle Nichols flash the Vulcan greeting when she visited him in the Oval Office in 2012.

Nichelle Nichols in her groundbreaking role as Lt. Uhura, was a direct inspiration to both NASA Space Shuttle astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, who later appeared as a transporter officer in the Season 6 episode “Second Chances” of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Whoopi Goldberg, who played the role of Guinan on the same series. She also showed young white children around the country and (eventually, around the world) that a Black woman could be more than a maid, that there was nothing unusual about a female POC being a competent, capable starship bridge officer. In the 1960s there were many white people who had literally never met a Black person. Uhura was good for all of us, not just people of color.

NASA’s first astronauts were all former test pilots, mostly male WASP military veterans. When females and POC went into space, they tended to be engineers and scientists, although of course, some were fighter pilots.

In 1980, Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, the Cuban cosmonaut on Soyuz 38, became the first human being of African heritage to go into outer space. The first African-American astronaut from NASA was Col. Guion Bluford in1983. The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. The first American woman in space was Dr. Sally Ride in1983. Ten years later Dr. Ellen Ochoa would be the first Hispanic woman to go into space in 1993. Dr. Mae Jemison had become the first African-American woman to go into space a year earlier in 1992. The first Asian person in space was Vietnamese cosmonaut Ph?m Tuân on Soyuz 37 in 1980. The first Asian-American astronaut was Col. Ellison Onizuka in 1985.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Katherine Johnson and other “colored computers” were making space flight possible. Thanks to the superb movie Hidden Figures we are all aware of the hard work of Mrs. Johnson and her colleagues now. At the time she was not widely known.

The NNF was founded to to encourage young people, male and female, of all colors and creeds to lift their eyes to the skies and study STEAM and STEM fields.

“Science is not a boy’s game, it’s not a girl’s game. It’s everyone’s game. It’s about where we are and where we’re going. Space travel benefits us here on Earth. And we ain’t stopped yet. There’s more exploration to come.”

Nichelle Nichols

In my humble opinion, anything that encourages Science is a good thing.

STEM is good. STEAM is better. We applaud the efforts and goals of the Nichelle Nichols Foundation, and look forward to what brighter future tomorrow may bring through their efforts.

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Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.