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Drunk History Spotlights Nichelle Nichols, the “First Black Woman in Space for Fake”

We all obviously love Nichelle Nichols for her role as Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek (and several subsequent films). However, Nichols was also responsible for changing the game up for women, specifically black women, in real life, both in STEM fields and beyond. All this is paid respectful and hilarious tribute in the most recent episode of Drunk History.

Appropriately titled “Game Changers,” the episode of Drunk History that aired last night focuses on people (it being Black History Month, the show also appropriately focuses on all black people) who changed the game through their work in various fields. Music takes up a bunch of the episode, telling the stories of both the birth of hip-hop in 1970s New York and the story of Berry Gordy founding Motown Records.

However, the story that was the most relevant to our interests was that of Nichelle Nichols. The story is wonderfully and drunkenly told by comedian and Full Frontal writer, Ashley Nicole Black, and includes the time when Nichols (played by Raven-Symoné) met Martin Luther King Jr. (played by Jaleel White), and he convinced her to remain on Star Trek when she was considering moving on, because he loved the show and saw her as an inspiration to young black people who could for the first time see a black woman on television who wasn’t a servant.

It also gets into the story of her being half of television’s first interracial kiss on Star Trek along with William Shatner (played by Drunk History creator, Derek Waters).

Those stories I knew. What I didn’t know much about was just how instrumental she was in actively integrating NASA’s space program. Nichols gave a speech at NASA encouraging them to take inspiration from Star Trek and actively recruit a more inclusive group of astronauts.

As narrator Black explains, they didn’t “know anyone who wasn’t a white dude,” so they asked for Nichols’ help in that recruitment. Nichols ended up touring the country and recruiting Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Guion Bluford, the first black man at NASA, and Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space.

So, as Black tells us, “So, Nichelle Nichols was, like, the first black lady to go to space for fake, and she recruited the first black lady to go to space for real. She literally integrated space.”

And how did Nichols feel about getting the Drunk History treatment? In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she laughed, “Well, I don’t know what to think. But it was really funny and pretty good as a comedy version of what really happened.”

(via Screen Rant, image: screencap/Comedy Central)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.