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NASA scientist Claudia Alexander dies

The UCLA alumna was also a prolific author of scientific papers, children's science-learning books and science-fiction short stories.

Breast cancer claims Dr. Claudia Alexander, groundbreaking NASA space research scientist and project manager of the 14-year $1.5 billion Galileo mission to Jupiter, project scientist for Rosetta Project

Dr. Claudia Alexander, a rare and highly esteemed space scientist, died of breast cancer on July 11. She was a rarity at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration for three reasons: she was brilliant, she was a woman and she was an African-American.Funeral services were held Aug. 8.

ComptonHerald.com | Claudia Alexander

“…loving your work can sometimes be as important as how much money you make.” — Dr. Claudia Alexander. Photo: YouTube

Alexander, who was 56 years old, was the last project manager of the 14-year $1.5 billion Galileo mission to Jupiter, which ended in 2003. After that, she held the position of NASA’s project scientist on the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Project, which launched in March 2004. That position rendered her responsible for $35 million worth of project instruments that collected vital data on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimendo.

According to her bio, Claudia Alexander’s areas of expertise included the evolution and physics of comets, Jupiter and its moons, Venus, plate tectonics and the stream of particles from the sun known as solar wind.

Alexander was also a prolific writer, having authored more than a dozen scientific papers, several children’s books, and an assortment of science fiction tomes for fun and relaxation.

Alexander was born in Vancouver, British Columbia and raised in Santa Clara, Calif. She received her bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley, earned her master’s degree at UCLA, and obtained her Ph.D. in space plasma physics from the University of Michigan.

Being comfortable with the news media as well as with outer space, Alexander explained to the U.S. Black Engineer and Information Technology magazine that “NASA chose me deliberately for my ability to get along with different cultures.”

ComptonHerald.com | Claudia Alexander

“NASA chose me deliberately for my ability to get along with different cultures.” – Dr. Claudia Alexander shown in a 2014 photo with scientists from the Rosetta Project. Photo: Twitter

Last year, she expressed her feelings about being a Black woman in a field dominated by White men, saying, “I’m used to walking between two different cultures.” And in an interview with Michigan Engineer magazine, she directed her comments to young people and informed them that “loving your work can sometimes be as important as how much money you make.”

Alexander went on to say, “In the annals of history, the athletes and musicians fade, but the ones who make fundamental improvements in humankind’s way of life, and in their understanding of the universe, live on in their discoveries.”
Claudia Alexander was unmarried, and is survived by one sister and one brother.

Betty Pleasant is a contributing writer and columnist for the Compton Herald. She was formerly a reporter at the Los Angeles Sentinel and a columnist at the Los Angeles Wave.

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