Nichols died in July at 89, but memorial spaceflight company Celestis Inc. will launch a portion of her cremated ashes and a sample of her DNA about 90 to 190 million miles into space on its appropriately named Enterprise Flight, the company announced Thursday. The rocket named Vulcan is currently scheduled to depart later this year from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and leave the Earth-moon system. According to a press release, Vulcan will set its Peregrine lunar lander "on a trajectory for its rendezvous with the moon," and "the Centaur upper stage will then continue into deep space, entering an orbit around the sun, becoming humanity's furthermost reaching outpost, which will then be renamed the Enterprise Station."
DNA from Nichols's adult son, actor Kyle Johnson, will make the trip, too. In fact, more than 200 flight capsules with ashes, DNA and messages from loved ones will be included on the flight, which will launch atop the United Launch Alliance's Vulcan. Others who worked with Nichols on the sci-fi phenomenon and have since died also will be part of the mission: Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and his actress wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who played nurse Christine Chapel in the original series; actor James Doohan, who played Scotty in the show and movies; and visual effects artist Douglas Trumbull, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Ahead of the launch, Nichols's many fans can send free tributes to her through the Celestis website. A digitized version of them will be taken as cargo.
"My only regret is that I cannot share this eternal tribute standing beside my mother at the launch," Johnson told Celestis. "I know she would be profoundly honored for this unique experience and enthusiastically encourage ALL of her FANS to join us vicariously by contributing your thoughts, affections, memories, NN inspired successes, dreams, and aspirations via email to be launched with her on this flight! WOW!"
Nichols was one of the first Black women to star in a major TV show when Star Trek first aired in 1966. Her presence in prime time was so important that Martin Luther King Jr. himself asked her to stay on it when they met at an NAACP event following that first season. She had actually planned to leave TV for the stage, but reconsidered after talking to the civil rights leader.
"He told me that he was my biggest fan," Nichols recalled in the 2018 documentary From the Bridge. "And he asked me to please stay on the show — that I was a role model to Black children and women all across America ... He told me that I couldn't leave: that I was part of history."
King reportedly said that Nichols and her character showed Black people "as we should be seen every day, as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance and who can go to space, who are professors, lawyers." Would a Black person or a woman replace her?
Not only did she stay on with show, Nichols eventually worked with NASA to help recruit women and people of color to apply.
The announcement of the space launch containing her remains was accompanied with news that Nichols's family has established the Nichelle Nichols Foundation to "inspire the next generation to aim for the stars and lead us closer to Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future."