She ventured into deep space with the rest of the "Star Trek" crew, but now actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Nyota Uhura in the series, is boldly going where only a limited number of men and women have gone before -- the SOFIA aerial observatory.
Nichols confirmed during a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) on Friday that she'll be hitching a ride aboard SOFIA's next flight, scheduled for September 15. SOFIA, which stands for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a joint operation of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and consists of a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft equipped with a super-powerful infrared telescope that helps the agencies observe things ground-based telescopes can't.
It achieves this by flying at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (about 12,000 to 13,700 meters), rising well above most of the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere. This lets SOFIA capture better images than ground-based telescopes because water vapor blocks some infrared wavelengths from reaching the ground.
The spacecraft that eventually became SOFIA began operating in 1977, and the first SOFIA test flight took place in Texas in 2007. It wasn't until 2010 that the full SOFIA telescope was first used, and it didn't reach full operating capacity until early 2014. The crew behind SOFIA expects the craft to conduct about 960 hours of observations per year, or about 100 flights lasting 8 to 10 hours.
Sadly, SOFIA doesn't travel to deep space, and the uniforms the crew members wear arguably aren't as cool as the one Nichols and her crew donned for "Star Trek." Still, it's good to see a cast member from the original "Star Trek" series still looking to boldly venture toward the final frontier at the age of 82.