The actress who played Lt Uhura in Star Trek is to blast off on a mission for US space agency NASA aged 82 – and three months after suffering a stroke, according to The Mirror. Nichelle Nichols, who has been an ambassador for NASA since portraying the groundbreaking character in the 1960s, will fly on the SOFIA space telescope in September. While the telescope – housed in a specially converted Boeing 747 – doesn’t quite go to the final frontier, it makes it as high as the stratosphere, around 50,000 above the Earth.
Ms Nichols revealed her daring mission during an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session on social forum website Reddit. She said: “SOFIA does not, sadly, fly into space. It’s an airborne observatory, a massive telescope mounted inside a 747 flying as high as is possible. I was on a similar flight, the first airborn observatory, back in 1977. “It’s an amazing experience, you get a totally different perspective than from earth.
“I do hope someone gets some great pictures.” Her visit to the airborne observatory will come just three months after she was hospitalised after suffering a mild stroke. Ms Nichols is widely recognised as having played the first African American character on television in a non-stereotypical role. She played Lt Uhura, Head of Communications for the USS Enterprise for more than 25 years from 1966.
By her last appearance as Uhura, in the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the character had been promoted to Commander. She’s also credited as having shared the world’s first interracial kiss with co-star William Shatner. Ms Nichols is also a gifted singer, and planned to leave Star Trek for a career on Broadway. But she was convinced to stay by none other than Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
In the AMA session, Ms Nichols recounted how an intervention from the civil rights leader changed her mind. She said: “Dr. Martin Luther King, quite some time after I’d first met him, approached me and said something along the lines of “Nichelle, whether you like it or not, you have become a symbol. “If you leave, they can replace you with a blonde-haired white girl, and it will be like you were never there.
“What you’ve accomplished, for all of us, will only be real if you stay.” That got me thinking about how it would look for fans of color around the country if they saw me leave. I saw that this was bigger than just me.”