NASA’s Claudia Alexander passes away at 56
NASA has lost one of their best scientists, engineers and managers this past week when project specialist Claudia Alexander passed away at age 56 after a decade-long battle with cancer. Alexander was involved with an array of NASA planetary missions and was perhaps best known for her involvement in the U.S. space agency’s Galileo mission to the gas giant Jupiter.
As noted, Alexander worked on a number of leading projects at NASA. She contributed to the U.S. portion of the Rosetta cometary mission to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
Alexander was also the last Project Manager on the Galileo probe to Jupiter. As a researcher, her studies have included the evolution and interior physics of comets, Jupiter and its numerous moons, magnetospheres, plate tectonics, space plasma, the solar wind, and the planet Venus.
A prolific author, she has written or co-authored 14 technical papers. Additionally, she has penned several children’s books and was working on a novel. Before her passing, Alexander was looking for a publisher for her non-work-related books.
Before becoming a scientist, Alexander had her sights set on journalism. Her parents, however, had different ideas. Alexander explained on a few occasions the feelings her parents had on the matter: “But my parents were convinced engineering was the answer! I found it was a lot more fun to think about the flow of water in a river than water in the city sewer, so I went into Earth-science and got a bachelor’s in geophysics at UC-Berkeley.”
After receiving her bachelor’s, Alexander attended UCLA where she received her master’s in geophysics. She then went on to receive a Michigan Engineering Ph.D. in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, specializing in space plasma. Alexander said of her career path, “I love working in the space program on one-of-a-kind engineering applications, like flying spacecraft, which is really a team effort. There are so many aspects of keeping a piece of engineering working and operating when it’s thousands of kilometers away from you. The ingenuity required is amazing.”
Throughout her career, Alexander has received numerous accolades. In 1993, she was named University of Michigan’s Woman of the Year. She received the Emerald Honor for Women of Color in Research & Engineering from Career Communications Group a decade later. A feature article on Alexander appeared in Black Enterprise magazine in 2007.
Alexander received numerous tributes on the NASA site after her passing. Dr. Charles Elachi, Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, posted, “Claudia brought a rare combination of skills to her work as a space explorer. Of course, with a doctorate in plasma physics, her technical credentials were solid. But she also had a special understanding of how scientific discovery affects us all, and how our greatest achievements are the result of teamwork, which came easily to her. Her insight into the scientific process will be sorely missed.”
Dr. Bob Pappalardo, Senior Research Scientist, Europa Multiple Flyby Mission, added to the tributes as well: “Claudia Alexander has left our world, to go explore others no doubt. Claudia was a scientist, teacher, author, and role model […] I was fortunate to have worked closely with her on the Cassini mission, where we learned from each other. She is an example for others, who may strive to be as curious and as giving.”
Two memorials are planned for Alexander – one in Los Angeles and the other in San Jose. More details about the events can be found at this link: Claudia Alexander
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.