One cannot mention “Star Trek” without mentioning Nichelle Nichols!
Nichols, who’s best known for playing communications officer “Nyota Uhura” in the renowned “Star Trek” series, will be 89-years-old on Dec. 28 and has been an active public figure across television, the big stage, and within the music industry since the early 1960s.
In 2018, the iconic entertainer was diagnosed with dementia and has also been at the center of a conservatorship battle, which is managed by her son, Kyle Johnson, who spoke on his mother’s behalf during the weekend.
During Nichols’ farewell panel, NASA Astronaut Appearance Specialist Denise Young, who was inspired to pursue a career within the agency due to Nichols’ character in “Star Trek,” presented the actress with the prestigious NASA Exceptional Public Achievement Medal. The honor celebrates her four decades-long worth of activism, which helped to diversify NASA’s ranks.
“A life well-lived is reward enough, every day, and my mother’s certainly had a life well lived in many respects,” said Johnson on behalf of his mother who rose from her wheelchair to accept the award. “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. Not just as an actress, but very real and important work that she inspired and enabled people to understand.”
Not only did she receive a prestigious award, but Nichols was also met with a video tribute that included “Star Trek: Discovery” actress Sonequa Martin-Green. She credited the actress for paving the way as one of the first Black actors to appear in a regular television role.
“I remember the great ball of nervousness that was in my stomach as I was approaching her, but she whispered to me in my ear so delicately she said, ‘Take care. It’s yours now,’” Martin-Green recalled.
Martin-Green played the sci-fi franchise’s first Black female starship captain in a leading role and further explained the moment in history when Nichols had planned to exit “Star Trek” to go back to her roots as a Broadway actress.
“I melted,” she continued. “And I needed that. I needed that blessing. She made me feel welcomed. She made me feel justified and she made me feel empowered.”
Luckily, the exit was halted by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, during a party, convinced Nichols to remain in her role as “Uhura” because of what it meant to viewers to see her represented.