12:38pm PT by Graeme McMillan
'Star Trek's' First Uhura Joins NASA Mission in September
Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek's first Uhura, is following in the footsteps of her iconic fictional alter ego and signing up on a mission of scientific exploration, becoming one of the first non-essential personnel to fly with NASA's latest telescope, SOFIA.
The actress revealed the news this weekend, writing on social media that she was "honored" to reveal that she'll be on board the Sept. 15 flight launching from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.
The SOFIA observatory is a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, with the observatory itself being the largest airborne observatory in the world, a Boeing 747SP that has been modified to include a reflecting telescope and other instruments that allows scientists to study the "infrared universe" invisible to the naked eye, yet containing all kinds of information about the world — and beyond — around us.
"SOFIA is actually a second generation Airport Observatory," Nichols clarified in her announcement, adding, "The first generation was the Keiper Airborne Observatory, flown in the mid 1970’s, which I also had the honor being able to fly on, and even operate the equipment!"
Nichols has been an official ambassador for NASA since the 1970s, utilizing her fame as Star Trek's communications officer to recruit minorities and women into the organization. Amongst those she helped bring in were Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and Charles Bolden, the current administrator of NASA. Additionally, the actress has also served on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society since the 1980s.
News of the flight is welcome to fans of the actress, who suffered a stroke in early June, but has been recovering and undergoing therapy ever since.