Nearly 55 years ago, when actress Nichelle Nichols graced the screen as Lt. Nyota Uhura on the television series “Star Trek,” it illustrated the importance of representation. The 88-year-old trailblazer was recently honored by NASA for driving diversity in STEM forward, People reported.
Throughout her entire career, Nichols used her artistry to show Black women and girls the limitless possibilities that awaited them within the realm of space exploration. The Robbins, Ill. native made history as the first African American woman to play a lead character on television as Lt. Nyota Uhura.
A songstress and dancer, Nichols went on to be featured in different projects under the “Star Trek” franchise, including “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.” In the 70s, Nichols founded the company Women in Motion, Inc. to use education as a vessel to empower people of color to pursue careers in the space industry.
During this year’s Los Angeles Comic Con festivities, Nichols was honored for her impactful and transformative work on and off the screen through an array of panels. She was diagnosed with dementia three years ago, making the commemoration even more memorable.
As part of the convention, she was awarded the NASA Exceptional Public Achievement Medal for playing an instrumental role in diversifying the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. After accepting the medal presented by NASA Astronaut Appearance Specialist Denise Young, Nichols received a standing ovation.
“This is an exceptional recognition, and I’m of course very proud of her for all that she’s done, and the value and the meaning of her work,” her son Kyle Johnson said after his mother received the award. “Not just as an actress, but very real and important work that she inspired and enabled people to understand.”
Nichols also received heartwarming messages from those who she has inspired, including actress Sonequa Martin-Green and Dr. Mae C. Jemison. This isn’t the first time Nichols has been honored by NASA. In 1984, she received the agency’s Public Service Award.