Dr. Claudia Alexander
May 30, 1959 - July 11, 2015
Resident of Bay Area
Pioneering JPL Space Plasma Physicist Dr. Claudia Alexander Dies at 56. As Project Scientist for NASA's Galileo and Rosetta Missions, She Inspired Budding Scientists, Particularly Young African-American Women, to Pursue STEM Careers.
Dr. Claudia Joan Alexander waited 15 years for the moment last fall when a spacecraft the size of a washing machine would make a historic landing on a comet and potentially help unlock the origins of the solar system. As the project scientist representing NASA in the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, it would be one of the highlights of an exciting career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.
Alexander died on July 11, 2015 from breast cancer.
"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."
Alexander was born on May 30, 1959 in Vancouver, British Columbia to Harold and Gaynelle Alexander. She was raised in the heart of what would become the Silicon Valley in Santa Clara, California and graduated from Buchser High school in 1977, where senior year she was elected student body president and most likely to succeed. She then went to the University of California at Berkeley, where she landed an internship at NASA Ames Research Center, which ignited her interested in planetary science. She graduated in 1983 with a degree in Geophysics. After Berkeley she went to UCLA, graduating in 1985 with a degree in Geophysics and Space Physics then she went to the University of Michigan, graduating in 1993 with a PhD in Space Plasma Physics. She immediately joined JPL, where she stayed for the rest of her career.
Alexander became a media darling after she became the project manager on the Galileo mission to Jupiter. She appeared regularly on the Discovery Channel, PBS and NPR. Last year, she was profiled on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Alexander's work was recognized in other ways as well. Most recently, she was named the 2015 Woman of the Year in the 25th Senate district by State Senator Carol Liu. In 2003, she was awarded the Emerald Honor for Women of Color in Research & Engineering by Career Communications Group, Inc. In 1993, she was named Woman of the Year by the Association for Women Geoscientists.
Determined to inspire young people to pursue science, Alexander wrote a series of fictional children's books. She was a great pie baker, a lover of horseback riding and the outdoors, a doll maker and a huge fan of professional tennis. She was a member of the American Geophysical Union, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Pasadena Chapter of The Links, Inc., as well as a member of the Christian Science Church.
Alexander is survived by her mother, Gaynelle Alexander (San Jose), her brother David Alexander [Shawanda] (San Jose), her sister, Suzanne Alexander (Los Angeles), two nieces, Bria Victoria Alexander and Carol Jasmine Ryan and two nephews, Brandon Jiles Alexander and Robert John Ryan.
A memorial service will be held on August 8th at 11 a.m. at Oak Hill Funeral Home and Memorial Park Chapel of the Roses, 300 Curtner Ave., San Jose.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to a scholarship fund established in Alexander's name to support young people pursuing the sciences: http://www.gofundme.com/Dr-Alexander