Nichelle Nichols Brings 'Star Power' to TSM's After School Academy

Ask a student to enroll in an after school enrichment program and then watch as they make an exit faster than a speeding bullet. Ask a school principal to talk about after school enrichment programs and he or she is likely to first reach for Rolaids! Unlike after school recreation programs that are popular and cheap, after school enrichment programs are generally boring, expensive and poorly attended.

Nichelle demonstrates the use of her famous Communications earpiece. (Close up photos by Lilian Darling Holt)

Knowing this, it would be logical to assume that the words: 'star power' and 'after school enrichment' would never occur in the same sentence ---but you'd be wrong!

On February 25, 2010, when Traveling Space Museum invited the world famous actress, Nichelle Nichols to speak to students at San Fernando High in San Fernando, CA. about 'The Science of Star Trek,' the concept of after school enrichment changed forever!

Cadets attending the TSM After School Space Academy were given an assignment to view segments of the television series and keep a count of how many futuristic gadgets they believed did not exist 44 years ago when the show first premiered.

Most cadets quickly spotted Lt. Uhura's Blu Tooth like earpiece. Many of the cadets were surprised to learn that Star Trek first demonstrated Blu Tooth capabilities that long ago. Others discovered that iPads, voice activated computers, personal digital assistants and other devices were first envisioned on the groundbreaking series! Some students saw the handheld 'Communicator' device as a Blackberry!

Nichelle displays her own Communicator for the cadets

Nichelle delighted her audience when she pulled out her own Star Trek 'Communicator' and, with a flick of her wrist, the lid of the device flipped open and produced the familiar high-pitched squelch! She also had a Motorola Flip–Phone on hand for a side-by-side comparison of the two. Nichelle was proud to tell the story of how the revolutionary Motorola phone came into being-and it's Star Trek connection. Back the 1980's, a young engineer and Star Trek fan named Marc Cooper came up with idea of creating a real phone based on the 'Communicator' featured in his favorite TV show. He pestered his boss until he was allowed to work on the project exclusively. Cooper was also a big fan of Nichelle's and he personally got to tell her his story.

Nichelle demonstrated the use of a 'Phaser' weapon as well as a futuristic "Hypo spray" device that administered medicine into the body by spraying it through the skin rather than with a hypodermic needle. The real "Hypo Spray" appeared 20 years after Star Trek. It is accepted fact that 'geeks' who grew up watching Star Trek are creating Star Trek's version of the future-- today!

Nichelle puts her 'Phaser' on 'stun' should anyone misbehave!

Nichelle gave Star Trek producer and creator, Gene Roddenberry all the credit for being the master futurist that he was. She fondly remembered that Roddenberry sought to create a science fiction series that adults would appreciate and not the "kiddie show" that the networks wanted. Roddenberry also dreamed of a 'United Federation of Planets' that embraced the ideals of liberty, equality and justice for all creatures. Naturally, he wanted a multi-national and multi-cultural 'command crew' of officers on the show and pushed back against the objections of many a TV executive. Back in 1966 when the show premiered, Blacks were rarely seen on TV. White actors often played the roles of Asians, Native Americans and other minorities. Much of the objections to the show's concept centered on the idea of a black female, Lt. Uhura, being an officer over white crewmen. Roddenberry never backed down on Lt. Uhura being an officer and then, to spite his critics and maximize her exposure, Roddenberry deliberately placed Lt. Uhura's station directly behind Captain Kirk's chair. That was to insure that she would be in practically every shot Kirk was in! That sly maneuver would raise her stature even though she only had a few lines per show.

So it came to pass that Lt. Uhura, a beautiful black woman, became Chief Communications Officer and 4th in Command of the Starship Enterprise! This was a first in television series history. In the process, Nichelle Nichols would become an icon of both the civil rights and the woman's rights movements while becoming an international super star. Many a female astronaut has credited her as being their main inspiration.

After her two appearances, cadets and visiting dignitaries posed for pictures, received autographs and got answers to questions. The TSM Space Academy experience gave the cadets some insight into the workings of Hollywood, the Space Program and a chance to get to know the legendary figure and national treasure that is Nichelle Nichols.

Bringing 'star power' to an after school program added unexpected excitement to an already exciting program. Discover for yourself the affect that can have on students. Give us a call--all of our 'hailing frequencies' are open!

(Photo by Anita Betito)