Hello Reddit.

I’m Nichelle Nichols, some of you may know me best as Lt. Uhura from Star Trek, the Original Series. A couple months back, I had an amazing time hosting an Ask Me Anything here on Reddit. I loved the response it got, it’s so much fun to be able to talk to so many of you so quickly!

During that AMA, I announced that I was invited to fly onboard NASA SOFIA. (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) The response was huge! You folks, and others, had so many questions, and a lot of excitement. Now that the flight itself is behind me, I wanted to do another AMA, this time focused on SOFIA, the flight, the telescope, and its mission in the stratosphere, including the Ambassador program that sent me up there!

Do you want to experience what it’s like to be on SOFIA? You can watch an interactive 360-degree video shot on SOFIA and in the NASA briefings, with a VIP pass. Through StarPower, I’m raising funds for The Planetary Society and the Technology Access Foundation, two amazing causes that help make our future in space more bright.

To answer questions alongside me, I am joined by two amazing NASA people, together posting from /u/NASASOFIA. SOFIA Staff Scientist Dr. Helton will be fielding the technical questions, while NASA Ames Outreach Coordinator Kassandra Bell and I talk about the Ambassador outreach program and education.

So, Reddit, Ask (Us) Anything! We’ll be here for about an hour.

Proof: of me http://imgur.com/uIJTR77

Of Dr. Helton: http://imgur.com/dboZzS5 listed here.

Edit: Hailing frequencies are now closing! I'm off for a lunch appointment, but Dr. Helton and I will pop in later to answer some top rated questions.

Comments: 404 • Responses: 25  • Date: 


What do you think of Zoe Saldana's performance as Uhura, and the new movies in general?

NichelleNichols786 karma

I think she's a brilliant actress. I talked to her when she first was approached. She was nervous about it, and I told her 'Just be yourself, and give Uhura all you've got.'

And she did!


Thank you so much for your response and for doing this AMA! I didn't think I could admire you more than I already did!

NichelleNichols470 karma

Bless you son, bless you.

caliphis385 karma

Hi Nichelle, You were my first crush. I grew up watching you in reruns, and I knew I wanted a smart and beautiful wife when I grew up.

My daughter is reaching the age where STEM starts falling to the wayside. She loves doing engineering projects with me. Right now we are working on building a portable fog machine for her Halloween costume. I am worried that she is going to start letting the kids from school dissuade her from doing something she enjoys because it is "not for girls."

Do you have any advice on how to keep her from giving up on something she enjoys because it is not cool enough for her friends?

Thank you for doing this AMA

NichelleNichols645 karma

Tell her that if she does it anyway, it will become so cool because she's doing it, and she's a cool person. It's her and her work that makes her a 'cool' person, by being the best at what she does based on what she enjoys.

If she lets other people decide what's "cool", then that's letting other people direct your life, and that will prevent her from becoming the best her she can be. Being the best at something is 'cool', regardless of what others do.

If that doesn't make sense now, it will in the near future.

NASASOFIA162 karma

Many women work on SOFIA. Here is one of our Mission Directors, Nancy, leading a SOFIA flight. https://www.facebook.com/187095228001013/photos/pb.187095228001013.-2207520000.1444244813./891019604275235/?type=3&theater They were able to get cool jobs at NASA by studying science!

setter2263 karma

My mom flew on SOFIA!

How much am I lying by when I saw my mom has been in space? Like, in feet? I've asked her before and she says "it depends on how you define space," so I just keep telling people she's been to space

NichelleNichols106 karma

The news liked to call it 'the edge of space'. Seems a little dramatic, but it works!

caliphis54 karma

Thank you. I will show her this.

NichelleNichols106 karma

I can't think of a greater way to show that science is cool for women than seeing women doing such amazing things in a place like NASA.

DrInternetPhDMD254 karma

Dear Nichelle,

It's well known now that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr appreciated your roll in star trek. My question is, prior to Dr. King talking with you, did you think about the magnitude of your roll, as both a black person and a woman and the position that it represented in television at the time?

NichelleNichols432 karma

In that business you were always thinking of the next thing you're going to do, you prepare. I hadn't thought of that role as impossible to leave. I knew Uhura was important, for black people and for women, but I didn't see it as so pivotal.

He ordered me to stay on the show.

DrInternetPhDMD244 karma

Thank you for your answer!

I don't have a followup question. I'll just say this. I'm a white guy who is an engineer. You and your costars and your replacements in the more modern star trek era were a huge influence me on a child. You, personally, are a big part of the reason why I chose this line of work. You inspired me, and made me believe in humanity, and thank you so much for that!

NichelleNichols333 karma

You just made me believe in the future as well.

Maddie_N235 karma

Did you ever think about being in space while filming Star Trek? Did this live up to your expectations?

NichelleNichols433 karma

I thought about being in space from the time I was born! I always wished that I was qualified to be an astronaut. It was an honor to be able to play one on television!

I learned a lot from members of the space program in order to play my role better, and I'm honored that I've been able to help NASA in some way... in any way.

Shaysdays208 karma

How much training did you have to go through?

Also your groundbreaking work throughout your life has been an inspiration, thank you!

NichelleNichols303 karma

There really wasn't a whole lot that I needed to do! SOFIA takes educators and ambassadors on every flight. I went through safety training, egress training, and learning what the roles and responsibilities were of everyone on the flight.

Evacuation training was almost like a regular airplane, just much more exciting! There were hoods you wore over your head that filled with air, an evacuation rope that shot out of the top of the plane, more evacuation doors, all kinds of fun things.

There's even an information card!

Zomg_A_Chicken167 karma

Is there still talk about you having a role in the next Star Trek movie as Uhura's grandmother?

NichelleNichols472 karma

I think that would be funny! I'd love to be involved.

They would need to make me look older... a lot older! :)

ElfMage8386 karma

What do you like to do when you're not working?

NichelleNichols141 karma

What do you like to do when you're not working?

I don't know when I'm not working...

In my other life, I'm a singer and a professional dancer, and I still love to do both. I'm still involved with the space program in several ways, and very interested in the people involved. I spend a lot of time learning more and more about it.

ltredshirt80 karma

How often do you hear from fans who named their child after you? Curious as a few years ago my friends met you at Fan Expo. They mentioned I had named my daughter after you (true story) and you were kind enough to sign an autograph which she now treasures.

NichelleNichols149 karma

I wish every time someone did, they would have written to tell me, I'd keep every single letter. I've heard of many, I don't remember a number! I feel I have a responsibility to every one of those children (and all children, really) to be a fantastic role model, and I take that responsibility very seriously.

Megatomic74 karma

Ms. Nichols and Dr. Helton, this question is for both of you. Where did your interest in space start? Was Star Trek a starting point for you, or were you interested in space exploration and research before your exposure to Star Trek? And why do you feel this kind of research is really important?

Thanks to both of you for doing this!

NichelleNichols108 karma

The simplest answer to say, I've always cared, because it's there. What the heck is there? What's beyond that? Once we know what's there, will we even want to come back? It's like exploring the earth was back in our forefathers time.

I've always been interested in space. The what, the why, the wherefore. I've always wanted to know, where is humanity going from here, where do we want to go, and those are questions that come back to space in many ways.

SOFIA is really important because it's telling us more data. We want to see, feel, touch outer space, and this is getting us more answers. It's part of the space program that will one day solve all of these questions.

Megatomic24 karma

Thanks a ton for your answer! I'm huge Star Trek fan, and of you in particular!

So when you first took the role in Star Trek, was it at all motivated by your interest in space? And did being in Star Trek make you more interested in space than you were before?

NichelleNichols35 karma

I was drawn to the show concept, certainly, before I was a part of it. The biggest draw, however, was the team involved making it. I believed in their vision for the show.

Being part of Star Trek certainly did make me more interested than I was before.

CyanideRush55 karma

Hello! Firstly, thank you for all of the many years of entertainment. How did you, as an actress in a science fiction series, imagine space flight would be like (if ever you did)? How did your actual flight on SOFIA compare to that image in your mind?


NichelleNichols99 karma

As an actress in science fiction, I imagined spaceflight would be somewhat like it actually is. In doing the show, we weren't on a rocket, the Enterprise felt more like a flight. SOFIA is similar, as a modified jet. The show felt very real.

The flight on SOFIA was like nothing I'd done before! I wish I could do it again.

Gubbinal53 karma

Hi, Nichelle--this project sounds amazing, but I have a really stupid question for you. Did you keep the wigs from the Star Trek series? I think Solow and Justman assumed you did. Just curious!

NichelleNichols292 karma

My hair as Uhura was all natural, dear.

Someone wanted to create a wig for me as Uhura. The producer said 'you touch her hair, and you're gone.'

CandysaurusRex44 karma

I have your picture from "Mirror, Mirror" hanging on my wall as fitness inspiration. You had rockin abs and a feminine figure! Literally a strong female character. How do you feel your dancing and physical training influenced your portrayal of Uhura?

NichelleNichols75 karma

How do you feel your dancing and physical training influenced your portrayal of Uhura?

It's hard to answer, I used so much of my real life in my acting that sometimes it's hard to see the difference between the two. The dancing and training were absolutely important, I gave my character those physical attributes. She danced, she sang. I wanted to make myself as close to her as possible, so I made her as close to me as possible. It was simpler to bring reality to the character that way.

spelo40 karma

The team that just flew a spacecraft past Pluto has proposed a set of names for features on the large moon Charon that includes characters from science fiction. One of the proposed crater names is Uhura! Have you heard about this and how do you feel having something 3 billion miles away named after you?

NichelleNichols95 karma

I've heard about it more than once! I feel so honored to have been named Uhura myself.

Things like this make me want to live up to that position as a role model in every aspect.

However, if they run out of names after 'Uhura', I'd recommend they go with Nichelle :)

orthonym35 karma

We've heard stories about how you inspired Whoopie Goldberg as a child, was there anyone that you saw in the same way and inspired you to pursue a career in entertainment?

NichelleNichols77 karma

I am very honored to have inspired anyone, Whoopi especially because of how much I respect her work.

Lena Horn and Eartha Kitt among others inspired me, and all for different reasons. But, they all had this greatness about them. I felt like they were my reasons for being. I wanted to be like them but not them, the me of me. I didn't impersonate anyone, I wanted to do what I could to get that 'greatness'.

I hope I've been able to inspire other young women to find that same greatness. Don't try to be like me, be the great you.

ticktockalock16 karma

Do you have any pets?

NichelleNichols44 karma

Cats are my natural pets. I don't have any right now because I've been traveling so much. I can't give them the attention they deserve, when I got home they looked like I'd done something wrong to them. Since my last pet passed away, I haven't brought a new one into the family.

Besides, I have my fans! And they're always there.

SchinzonOfRemus15 karma

So much to say. First of all, I want to thank you for playing in Star Trek. In a sense, Star Trek inspired me so that I decided to go and study physics after I finish high school. Second of all, as an intern in the German Aerospace Administration (DLR) I taught visitors (mostly pupils of my age and younger) about infrared radiation and talked about the SOFIA as a part of the presentation-experiment. I got mainly two questions.

1st to Mrs Nichols: what was the thing you were surprised by the most when flying on board the SOFIA?

2nd to Dr. Helton: what would you recommend to someone like me who wants to become an astrophysicist some day?

Thank you both for the AMA. It's a privilege to have people like you here!

NichelleNichols20 karma

I was surprised that you couldn't even tell when the massive aperture was opening and closing to the telescope. Not a shake, not a whistle. I knew it would be good, just not necessarily that good!

Many blessings on your education in physics! You're on an amazing journey.

contraptionfour13 karma

Thank you for all your inspiring work!

Is there any specific kind of study or endeavour that you think we (humanity) should be concentrating on in our space efforts?

NichelleNichols26 karma

Where do we want to go, what do we want to do when we get there, and what is the best way we can think of to add to it when we get there.

Pretty much in that order.

Cock_Vomit12 karma

Was there a point during your journey where you were you thought, Holy crap this is really crazy I could die?

NichelleNichols26 karma

Not at all! I felt perfectly safe in the hands of the SOFIA crew.

PM-Me-Ants12 karma

Do you think Star Trek will ever return to television? And could it ever recapture the magic of the originals?

NichelleNichols58 karma

I don't think Star Trek will ever leave television, or our minds, for good. I think it recaptures the magic of the originals now. Everyone who plays Star Trek in one part or another seems to capture some essence of what the original stars really created. We're excited to see it recaptured again by others.

There will always be the original cast to go by.

sc0ttt8 karma

Ms. Nichols: You really have a marvelous way of melding your celebrity status with science promotion. Thank you.

Was the SOFIA crew as ga-ga about meeting you as the rest of us geeks would be?

PS - I love your story of the skinhead at the convention.

NichelleNichols8 karma

Was the SOFIA crew as ga-ga about meeting you as the rest of us geeks would be?

It was a little like a convention at one point, everyone lined up for a picture! It was lovely, I hope they all know that I look up to them and what they do just as much as they look up to me!