NASA astronaut Mike Fincke and ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano reflect on the inspiration that actor Leonard Nimoy's character Spock in "Star Trek" had on scientists, engineers and space explorers around the globe. (YouTube/ReelNASA)

Leonard Nimoy’s death on Friday has inspired countless actors, politicians and ordinary people to pay tribute to the man behind Spock on “Star Trek.”

Then, on Saturday, American astronaut Terry Virts tweeted this photo while aboard the International Space Station:

The simple Vulcan salute, flashed back at earth from so many miles away, speaks to the impact that Nimoy and “Star Trek” had on American space exploration.

“Leonard Nimoy was an inspiration to multiple generations of engineers, scientists, astronauts, and other space explorers,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “As Mr. Spock, he made science and technology important to the story, while never failing to show, by example, that it is the people around us who matter most. NASA was fortunate to have him as a friend and a colleague.”

The space agency capitalized on the publicity generated by the popular series, and Nimoy and other actors in the series became involved with NASA and other scientific organizations. Actress Nichelle Nichols, for instance, became a recruiter for the agency, which was seeking more women and minority astronauts. Nichols has said Bolden was inspired to apply for NASA because of her campaign, and Sally Ride heard about the space program first through the “Star Trek”-linked publicity.

In 1976, NASA unveiled the space shuttle “Enterprise,” named after the craft on the show. It was initially supposed to be called “Constitution,” but the name was changed after “Star Trek” viewers “started a write-in campaign urging the White House to select the name Enterprise,” according to NASA.


In 1976, NASA’s space shuttle Enterprise, named after the iconic craft in “Star Trek,” rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities and was greeted by NASA officials and cast members from the television series. (NASA)

Many scientists have said that Nimoy inspired them. Don Lincoln, a senior physicist at Fermilab, told the Associated Press that Nimoy’s 1970s show “In Search of…” influenced him to get into the field.

“Despite the fact he worked in fiction, anyone who can inspire that many people to look into the sky and wonder has done something really important for mankind,” Lincoln told the Associated Press. “The fact is that Spock was a cool geek. Scientists are not always portrayed as being very strong. Usually, they’re the guy with the tape on their glasses and their pants too high. He was clearly a person who had desirable components beyond just being smart.”

Nimoy and his wife donated $1 million to the Griffith Park observatory complex. The theater there bears his name “to honor Leonard Nimoy’s expansive and inclusive approach to public astronomy and artful inspiration,” a statement from the observatory reads. “Mr. Nimoy was committed to people, community, and the enlarged perspective conferred by science, the arts, and the places where they meet.”

MORE READING:

George Takei, William Shatner mourn the death of ‘Star Trek’ star Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy, a pop culture force as Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ dies at 83

The Jewish roots of Leonard Nimoy and ‘live long and prosper’

Leonard Nimoy’s final public words: ‘Live long and prosper’

Meet ‘Astro Terry’ Virts, America’s next big space star