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.
— NASA Goddard (@NASAGoddard) February 27, 2015
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.”