Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura on TV’s ‘Star Trek,’ is Mourned

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Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura of the USS Enterprise in a ground-breaking role on the original Star Trek TV series, died yesterday (July 30, 2022) at age 89. News of her passing was announced on July 31. Series star William Shatner, said, “[She] did so much for redefining social issues.” Her Star Trek co-star George Takei, who portrayed Lt. Hikaru Sulu, wrote “my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”

In tributes, the actress was described more than once as a “trailblazer” for her role when the series debuted in 1966. The actress was she one of the first African-American women to be cast as a TV character with such prominent responsibilities. In her case, she served as the starship’s communications officer.

In a tribute, wrote, “The radiant, ebullient actress embraced Star Trek, her role and the fans; spending parts of five decades as a favorite guest at Star Trek and science fiction conventions all around the world.”

In 1968, in the original series’ third and final season, Lt. Uhura and Captain James T. Kirk, the ship’s commanding officer, portrayed by Shatner, shared a screen kiss. While it wasn’t the first interracial kiss on television, it was certainly one that was noticed in the final frontier.

Of the main cast, at the time of Nichols’s passing, only Shatner (91), Takei (85), and Walter Koenig (85, Ensign Chekov) are still alive,

From Kate Mulgrew, who portrayed Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.

Nichols talked about her groundbreaking role on the series.

J.J. Abrams, who directed two Star Trek movies, also paid tribute.

In an attempt to attract more astronauts of color and women and to utilize her influence on so many young, budding astronauts and scientists, NASA contracted Nichols in a campaign to reach further applicants for their space shuttle program. One applicant included engineer Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space.

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