Nichelle was born in Robbins, near Chicago in 1932 where her father was elected mayor of Robbins as well as chief magistrate.

She toured the United States, Canada and Europe as a singer with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton before turning to acting.

Nichelle Nichols played communications officer Lieutenant (later, Commander) Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in the Star Trek television series from 1966–1969. Her role in Star Trek was ground-breaking as one of the first African American female characters on American television not portrayed as a servant.

After the cancellation of Star Trek, Nichols volunteered her time in a special project with NASA to recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency. She began this work by making an affiliation between NASA and a company which she helped to run, Women in Motion.

Among those recruited were Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, and US Air Force Colonel Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut. An enthusiastic advocate of space exploration, Nichelle has also served on the board of governors of the National Space Society, educational space advocacy organisation, since the mid-1980s.

“At a fundraiser I was told there was a big fan who wanted to meet me… and there was Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with this big grin on his face. He reached out to me and said, ‘Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan.’ He said that Star Trek was the only show that he and his wife Coretta would allow their three little children to stay up and watch.”