How Nichelle Nichols Changed the Space Program and Recruited Women and Minorities to Work at NASA

Actress Nichelle Nichols photographed outdoors in Calabasa

Actress Nichelle Nichols photographed outdoors in Calabasa

Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty

Nichelle Nichols may have been famous for traveling through space Star Trekbut she also helped a new generation of astronauts with dreams of reaching the real final frontier.

Nichols – who played Lt. Nyota Uhura in the iconic TV series — helped NASA recruit some of its first female and minority astronauts, the space agency said in a tweet this weekend after the actress died Saturday at age 89.

“We celebrate the life of Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek actress, trailblazer and role model, who symbolized for so many what was possible,” chirping read. “She joined us in recruiting some of the first women and minority astronauts and inspired generations to reach for the stars.”

On NASA’s website, the agency said Nichols appeared in a commercial intended to inspire women and people of color to apply to become astronauts.

Soon after, Guy Bluford, the first black American in space, and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, were named to NASA’s astronaut class of 1978.

Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in the STAR TREK episode,

Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in the STAR TREK episode, “Journey to Babel.” Season 2, episode 10 originally aired on November 17, 1967.

CBS via Getty

RELATED: Star Trek Alum Whoopi Goldberg Pays Tribute to Nichelle Nichols: She ‘Inspired Me’

“I had always been proud of our achievements in space,” Nichols said during a speech at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in February 2012. “But something has always bothered me: ‘Where are the women? Where are the people of color?’ “

“Now, more than ever, we are exploring space beyond,” she said at the event. “I wish I could live forever so I could live to see it because we’re heading into the 23rd century that [Star Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry gave us … All our descendants will benefit from the growth of NASA.”

RELATED: Nichelle Nichols’ Life in Pictures

“Nichelle Nichols was a groundbreaking actress, advocate and dear friend to NASA,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “At a time when black women were rarely seen on screen, Nichelle’s portrayal of Nyota Uhura on Star Trek held up a mirror to America that was strengthening civil rights.”

He added, “Nichelle’s advocacy transcended television and transformed NASA. After Apollo 11, Nichelle made it her mission to inspire women and people of color to join this agency, change the face of STEM and explore the cosmos. Nichelle’s mission is NASA’s mission.” Today, as we work to send the first woman and the first person of color to the moon under Artemis, NASA is guided by the legacy of Nichelle Nichols.”

RELATED VIDEO: Nichelle Nichols, Barrier-Breaking Star Trek Actress, Dead at 89

When Star Trek First airing in 1966, Nichols was one of the first black women to play a major role on primetime television.

She is often cited as having the first interracial kiss on American television when her character kissed William Shatner’s white leading man Captain James T. Kirk.

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Martin Luther King Jr. once called Nichols’ role “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a black woman” in television history.

Nichols was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992, and then the original Star Trek cast was honored in 1991, she became the first African-American to place her handprints and signature in front of Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

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