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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Ashes of Nichelle Nichols are set for journey to deep space

The United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket will carry a portion of Ms. Nichols’s ashes, as well as cremated remains, DNA samples and messages of greetings.

By Amanda Holpuch

The ashes of Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura in the original “Star Trek” television series and died in July, will be launched into space later this year.

Celestis, a private spaceflight company that works with NASA, will carry her ashes on a rocket set to travel 150 million to 300 million kilometers (about 93,000 million miles to 186 million miles) into space beyond the Earth-moon system and the James Webb telescope.

Nichols, one of the first Black women to have a leading role on a network television series, died at age 89 from heart failure.

As Uhura, the communications officer on the starship USS Enterprise, Nichols was not only a pioneering actor, but she was also credited with inspiring women and people of color to join NASA.

The United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket is set to carry more than 200 capsules containing ashes, messages of greetings and DNA samples when it launches later this year from Cape Canaveral, Florida, into deep space.

Nichols’ son, Kyle Johnson, is providing a DNA sample to join his mother on the space journey. “My only regret is that I cannot share this eternal tribute standing beside my mother at the launch,” Johnson said in a statement.

Celestis said the rocket would launch into space and send a lunar lander toward the moon. It would then enter a stable orbit around the sun with the Celestis Memorial Spaceflight payload. At the end of the rocket’s powered burn and coast phase, the flight will become the Enterprise Station, which was named in tribute to “Star Trek.”

Some of the ashes of other “Star Trek” figures, and fans, will also be onboard the spaceflight.

They include Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” and his wife, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who played Nurse Chapel in the original series; James Doohan, who played Montgomery Scott, the chief engineer of the USS Enterprise; and Douglas Trumbull, who created visual effects for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” as well as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Blade Runner.”

Gene Roddenberry’s ashes have been sent to space several times before, including in 1997 on the first Celestis spaceflight to carry ashes. The cremated remains of Timothy Leary, an LSD advocate, were also onboard that journey.

For the Celestis spaceflight this year, the company is collecting tributes to Nichols from the public to be digitized and included in the flight.

After Nichols appeared on the original “Star Trek” series, which aired from 1966-69, she began a decadeslong association with NASA.

Starting in 1977, she helped promote the space agency and helped its efforts to recruit people from underrepresented backgrounds. NASA has credited her with inspiring thousands of women and people from minority groups to apply to the agency, including the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, and Charles Bolden, the NASA administrator from 2009-17.

Mae Jemison, who became the first woman of color to go to space in 1992, often said Nichols’ performance on “Star Trek” inspired her interest in the cosmos.

After Nichols’ death, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement that her “advocacy transcended television and transformed NASA.”

“Nichelle’s mission is NASA’s mission,” he said. “Today, as we work to send the first woman and first person of color to the moon under Artemis, NASA is guided by the legacy of Nichelle Nichols.”

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