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Nichelle Nichols, cultural icon, dead at age 88 of natural causes

Posted at 9:49 PM, Aug 01, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A cultural icon passed away over the weekend.

Actress Nichelle Nichols portrayed the main female character, Lieutenant Uhura, in the television series "Star Trek," subsequent series “Star Trek: The Animated Series,” and six feature films built around the original cast.

She played a rarity on American television at the time — a Black woman in a position of power.

She broke barriers in her role as the ship's communication expert, and she was also one of the first Black actresses to share a kiss on screen with white costar William Shatner in the popular TV show.

Over the years, Nichols worked with NASA to encourage women and minorities to look into the world of space and join the space shuttle program.

One such person whom she strongly influenced was Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist who piloted the SpaceX ship Inspiration IV into space last year. The ship, comprised of four civilian crewmembers, was owned by billionaire Elon Musk.

Proctor was the guest of Meharry Medical College's Pre-College Summer program for local high school students. When she spoke at the program, she mentioned that she had always been intrigued with space travel, and besides her father who worked for NASA, Nichelle Nichols had been Proctor's role model.

"I was inspired by science fiction and Star Trek and Lieutenant Uhura, and being able to see myself through that lens... I'm thankful that I've been able to have so much opportunity in my life, but it's definitely because I've had people who have inspired me and helped me to become the person that I am today," Proctor said.

Nichols' family said she died of natural causes. She was 88 years old.