Claudia Alexander: 1959 - 2015

Topics: African Americans, Civil Rights, Diaspora, Diversity, Diversity in Science, History, NASA, Science Fiction, Women in Science

As a research scientist, she inspired a generation, especially young women, to seek careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

This weekend was one of great excitement for the planetary science community as the New Horizons spacecraft moved in on Pluto following decades of hard work. But that optimism took on a somber tone Saturday as news quickly traveled that pioneering scientist Claudia Alexander had died at age 56. Friends and family writing online tributes reported she suffered from breast cancer, but no official cause of death was given.

Alexander was an employee of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the final project manager for NASA’s Galileo mission. But her public profile rose dramatically last fall due to her duties as project scientist for NASA’s role in the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

"The passing of Claudia Alexander reminds us of how fragile we are as humans but also as scientists how lucky we are to be part of planetary science,” James Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said in a statement. “She and I constantly talked about comets. Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in particular. She was an absolute delight to be with and always had a huge engaging smile when I saw her. It was easy to see that she loved what she was doing. We lost a fantastic colleague and great friend. I will miss her." [1]

The C. Alexander Gate, located on the smaller lobe of Comet 67P/C-G, has been named for Claudia J. Alexander, a U.S. Rosetta project scientist. Alexander passed away on July 11, 2015, after a 10-year battle with breast cancer. She was 56.

Alexander earned a bachelor's degree in geophysics from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree in geophysics and space physics from the University of California, Los Angeles. She went on to earn her doctorate degree in atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She began working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California before completing her doctorate. At the relatively young age of 40, she served as project manager for NASA's Galileo mission in 2000.

Alexander strove to inspire young people, writing children's books on science and mentoring young African-American girls. She also wrote "steampunk" science-fiction short stories. [2]

1. Pioneering Rosetta mission scientist Claudia Alexander dead at 56, Eric Betz, Astronomy Magazine

2. Rosetta Team Names Comet Features for Lost Colleagues, Nola Taylor Redd, Space.com

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