Nichelle Nichols (B. 1932)
Born in Robbins, Illinois, Nichols got her start on the stage in 1961 with Oscar Brown's Kicks and Co., a musical satire about Playboy magazine. Ironically, this drew the attention of Hugh Heffner who was so impressed with her, he booked her in his Chicago Playboy Club. While still in Chicago, she performed at the “Blue Angel”, and in New York, Nichols appeared at that city’s Blue Angel as a dancer and singer. She also toured with Duke Ellington and in addition to her acting and singing work, Nichols did some modelling.
Out of all of her accomplishments, her biggest and arguably most important role was that of Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek. Through this role, Nichols was the first black woman on a major television series who did not play a servant; the prominent supporting role as a bridge officer was unprecedented. Her groundbreaking work on Star Trek not only inspired such actresses as Whoopie Goldberg (and, in turn, Lupita Nyong'o) to pursue their careers, but also inspired astronaut Mae Jemison who became the first African American woman in space.
After the cancellation of Star Trek, Nichols volunteered her time in a special project with NASA to recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency, which proved to be a success. She began this work by making an affiliation between NASA and a company which she helped to run, Women in Motion.
Those recruited include Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, and United States Air Force Colonel Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut, as well as Dr. Judith Resnik and Dr. Ronald McNair, who both flew successful missions during the Space Shuttle program before their deaths in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986. Recruits also included Charles Bolden, the current NASA administrator, and Lori Garver, the current Deputy Administrator. (X)