Where No Man Has Gone Before

Admit it. There were times you wished you could be beamed up.

(CNN) — Long before Dr. Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman in space as a crew member of space shuttle Endeavour, she was fascinated by science. These days, she’s passing that passion on through her foundation dedicated to what she calls “science literacy.”

Growing up in Chicago, Jemison looked at the “Star Trek” character Lt. Uhura and saw her future.

“What was really great about ‘Star Trek’ when I was growing up as a little girl is not only did they have Lt. Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols as a technical officer — she was African,” said Jemison, who was born in Decatur, Alabama.

Dr. Jemison not only became an astronaut, she got to ride on the Enterprise.

She starred as a Lt. Palmer for the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode titled “Second Chances”. [other astronauts have also had roles on Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica]

Talk about following your bliss. Lt. Uhura inspired girls to admiration and envy for her miniskirted cool, and boys to hopeless crushes–and got kids fantasizing about how fast warp speed could be.

“I grew up with Star Trek’,” [Matt] Scott said. “I was 15 when it premiered on television.” A former rocket scientist for NASA, Scott credits “Star Trek” for his inspiration.

Nichelle Nichols inspires me today for looking so good even in the later spin offs (Star Trek XXV-XXVIII). In the sixties she was a glamorous challenge to the limited roles available to black women.

Nichelle Nichols planned to leave Star Trek in 1967 after its first season, but Martin Luther King, Jr. persuaded her to stay, stating that she was a role model for the black community. Whoopi Goldberg, who later played Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation, identified the Uhura character as a role model for her, recalling that she told her family, “I just saw a black woman on television; and she ain’t no maid!” NASA later employed Nichols in a campaign to encourage African Americans to join the service, and Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to fly aboard the Space Shuttle, cited Star Trek as an influence in her decision to join.

I loved Star Trek. I painted my closet walls to look like the helm of the Starship Enterprise with fake controls and invented computer doodads. And look at me now–a real computer to play with.

Let’s hear it for fiction that seeks out new worlds, new civilizations. Who knew that such inspiration could come from overacting, cardboard sets and wild ideas?

(related post–My Valuable Family where Lt. Sulu decides to live long and prosper with the man he loves.)

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