How Nichelle Nichols' Groundbreaking 'Star Trek' Role Paved the Way for Others & Even Changed NASA (Exclusive)

With her role as Uhura on the revolutionary sci-fi series, the actress changed the TV landscape.

Nichelle Nichols' impact on American culture and the TV landscape cannot be overstated. The celebrated actress' legacy is truly unique and it began with her role on a TV series that would become an iconic franchise.

In 1966, Nichols appeared in the utopian sci-fi drama Star Trek. At the time, a Black woman starring in a major TV series alongside a racially diverse cast was truly groundbreaking. It sparked a kind of cultural change that would have a lasting and indelible impact on the future of TV and the fabric of American society.

ET has spoken with Nichols over the years, and the now-89-year-old actress has shared some of the feedback she's gotten from fans and viewers that really showed her how much of a difference she's made.

"I have had letters and have met and come in contact with young women who have said to me, 'You came on and I thought My God there's somebody there representing me,'" Nichols shared with ET in 1986, while celebrating the show's milestone 20th anniversary.

As some fans have learned over the years, Nichols almost left the series after the first season, when she got offered an opportunity on Broadway. However, it was none other than Martin Luther King Jr. who personally persuaded her to stay on the show.

"I turned around straight into the face of Dr. Martin Luther King and nearly fainted," Nichols told ET in 1992. "He admired the show and told me how much he admired my work and how important it was. I said, 'Well, thank you very much, but I'm leaving the show.' And Dr. King said, 'You can not! You have changed the face of television forever!'"

"He said, 'It is more important that people who are not Black see this show, see you in this role, because they see us for the first time as we should be seen, as equals,'" Nichols recalled.

So, she stayed on as Uhura -- and then went on to change the actual galaxy in the real world through her outreach work with NASA.

"I was under contract to NASA to recruit the women and minority astronauts for the space shuttle program," Nichols told ET in a 1981 interview. "I developed some aerospace educational programs and projects for various agencies."

Between her work with NASA and her revolutionary performance in the original Star Trek, Nichols' legacy is immeasurable -- and resonates strongly with Star Trek: Discovery's Sonequa Martin-Green, who recently made Star Trek history in her own right as the show's first Black female captain.

"I think she's a hero," Martin-Green recently told ET's Nischelle Turner while reflecting on becoming captain in the Paramount+ series' fourth season. "We throw that word around a lot, but she really is one in real life. Her legacy is her heroism and the impact from it, because she changed the world."

Check out the video below to hear more from Martin-Green about how she's been inspired by Nichols life and legacy.