Nichelle Nichols left a legacy while playing the role of Lt. Nyota Uhura on Star Trek: The Original Series. It's hard to imagine this sci-fi series queen in anything but space, but at one point in time, Uhura herself was a little skeptical of the space program.
In a 1977 interview with The Herald-Sun, Nichols talked about her anti-space mindset before Star Trek.
"I actually opposed the space program," she said. "I figured the money could be better used to clean up ghettos and to fight disease and poverty."
Being on Star Trek for Nichols was as life changing as seeing outer space in real life. Star Trek became more than just a piece of fiction for Nichols, and it helped change her mind about the real-life space pogram.
After the series ended, the Trekkie fandom began to ramp up. Nichols began traveling to and participating in Star Trek conventions and events. At one of them, a NASA representative spoke, capturing Nichols' attention.
"He turned me on to space," she said. "I have learned that many things that we now take for granted, even things like computers, originally came out of our space research."
She eventually came full circle and became a vital backer of the U.S. Space Program. Nichols started a company called Women In Motion in 1977. The company's basic function was to produce educational and motivational films and plays.
"They were disappointed with the number of applicants they were getting for space training," she said. "In the eight months before they hired me they had only 1,500 applicants and of that number, only 65 were women and only 35 were from minorities."
Nichols had taken on this side quest in hopes that she could bring in more applications with more diversity. She contacted universities, addressed conventions, made radio and TV appearances and became an all-around advocate for the space program, all while staying true to both herself and Uhura.
"By the time I had finished the assignment they had between 8,000 and 10,000 applicants," she said. "Including 1,500 women and almost 1,000 minorities. And I think that many of them will make it as astronauts."
There is no doubt that Nichols was an essential part of the space program, but the space program was also an essential part of her.