With J.J. Abrams' Star Trek "reboot" opening this week (it's great fun, don't miss it), I thought fondly (or should I split the infinitive, Trek-like, and say that I fondly thought?) of Nichelle Nichols, originator of the role of Lt. Uhura, communications officer on the Starship Entrerprise.
Not a lot of Trekkies know of her important offscreen role as a NASA recruiter. In the 1970s, as she told the Inquirer in 1986, "It seemed to me that the manned space program represented America's future and so far NASA had projected a future where there were only white males." She wondered, "Where are my people? And where are the women?"
She was determined to make the Star Trek fantasy a reality, So, with NASA's blessing, Nichols went on the road -- pro bono -- to address students' and women's groups. As a result of her efforts, applications to the space administration from women increased sixteenfold and from minorities thirtyfold. Among those applicants were Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and Philadelphian Guy Bluford, America's first black astronaut. She recalled her pride in recruiting three of the Challenger astronauts -- Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka and Judith Resnik. "The Challenger crew was like the Enterprise -- one of everything," she said. And she mourned their tragic loss.
In the reboot, the lovely Zoe Saldana plays Uhura with a spirit and intelligence that is a tribute to Nichols. So, question of the day: Favorite Star Trek episode? Favorite movie? I'm old-school, I like the original crew. My favorite films are Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.