Since it began in 1966, “Star Trek” has been about exploration. The franchise’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, envisioned a future where humans were not bogged down by poverty, hunger, or war. Technology provided everything they needed. So, they took to the stars to explore beyond their own world.
Though not all of the Trekverse’s actors were interested in space, many of them desperately wanted to land a role on “Star Trek” because of their dreams of exploring strange new worlds. A few “Star Trek” actors have expanded their passion beyond the Trekverse by working with agencies and organizations that actually explore space.
Here are four Trek stars who “seek out new life and new civilizations” in real life.
After playing Lieutenant Uhura on “Star Trek: The Original Series” for a little bit, Nichelle Nichols wasn’t sure that she wanted to continue on the show. She wasn’t happy about the way her character was being written. However, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. personally asked Nichols to stay on the show. He told her that she was showing an entire generation that Black women could be on the bridge of a starship. He added that she was his daughters’ hero.
So, Nichols stayed on “Star Trek.” She also became a vocal advocate for diversity within NASA’s space program. Nichols gave a speech where she asked NASA outright, “Where are my people?”
NASA got the message loud and clear. The agency enlisted Nichols’ help in their recruiting efforts. She made recruitment videos for the space program, traveled all around the country to convince colleges to recommend people of color for the space program, and talked to potential recruits to convince them to apply.
NASA has credited Nichols’ work with getting 8,000 people of color into its space program since the 1970s.
Robert Picardo’s interest in space exploration started long before “Star Trek,” and it deepened during his time playing The Doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager.” In 1999, he became a member of the Advisory Council for The Planetary Society, an organization that lobbies for space exploration.
On behalf of the organization, Picardo has personally lobbied Congress for funding and policy changes that support space exploration. He’s also worked with Bill Nye (yes, the science guy) to raise awareness about the necessity of space advocacy.
Picardo’s passion for space exploration is centered on the same vision Roddenberry had — connecting with species from other planets. Picardo has been curious about the origins of life and life on other planets for decades. His work with The Planetary Society is part of his mission to make sure that humanity is ready for First Contact, whenever it happens.
Like Picardo, Anson Mount’s passion for space exploration revolves around finding proof of life on other planets. In 2020, he became a member of the Board of Directors at METI. The organization’s mission is to communicate with alien life. The name literally stands for Messaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. METI conducts and funds research into communication methods, technologies, and broadcasting techniques that could result in the discovery of extra-terrestrial life.
Mount told Paste that he believes humanity is closer than ever to finding and communicating with alien life. Now that scientists have identified planets that could contain water, which is necessary to maintain life, METI knows where to target its messages.
Decades after Nichols paved the way for people of color at NASA, fellow “Star Trek” alum Tim Russ is following in her footsteps. In August 2021, USA Today reported that Russ literally discovered an asteroid and is working with NASA to plan an exploration mission.
Russ has been an amateur astronomer for years, as he explained to his costar, Picardo, in a video for The Planetary Society, which can be viewed above. His interest became an avocation when he and five other avid hobbyists used their astronomy skills to find an asteroid in Jupiter’s orbit, which has been dubbed Patroclus.
Russ is now working with NASA to send a probe, named Lucy, to the asteroids orbiting Jupiter. The agency is hoping to analyze the chemical makeup of the asteroids to glean what information they can about where the asteroids originated and where they were before they were caught in Jupiter’s orbit.
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