Claudia Alexander

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Claudia Alexander
Claudia Alexander.jpg
Born (1959-05-30)May 30, 1959
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Died July 11, 2015(2015-07-11) (aged 56)
Arcadia, California, United States
Fields Planetary science
Institutions U.S. Geological Survey, Jet Propulsion Lab
Alma mater UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Michigan
Doctoral advisor Tamas Gombosi

Claudia Joan Alexander (May 30, 1959 – July 11, 2015) was an American research scientist specializing in geophysics and planetary science.[1][2] She worked for the United States Geological Survey and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She was the last project manager of NASA's Galileo mission to Jupiter[3] and until the time of her death had served as project manager and scientist of NASA's role in the European-led Rosetta mission to study Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Alexander was born in Canada but raised in Santa Clara, California by her mother, Gaynelle, and father, Harold. She had two siblings: Suzanne and David. [1] Alexander wanted to be a journalist but her parents—who were paying for her education—wanted her to become an engineer.[2] After a summer job at the Ames Research Center, she became interested in planetary science. Although she had been hired to work in the engineering section, she would sneak off to the science section where she found that not only was she good at the work, but that it was easier and more enjoyable to her than she had expected.[4]

In 1983 Alexander received a Bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley in geophysics,[4] which she thought would be a good background for a planetary scientist.[4] Alexander earned her Master's from the University of California, Los Angeles in geophysics and space physics in 1985.[4] Her masters' thesis used Pioneer Venus Orbiter data to study solar cycle variations in extreme ultraviolet radiation of the Venus ionosphere and its interaction with the solar wind.[5] She earned her Ph.D. in the physics of space plasma from the University of Michigan in 1993[4][6]—where she was named "Woman of the Year."


Alexander worked at the United States Geological Survey studying plate tectonics[6] and the Ames Research Center observing Jovian moons,[6] before moving to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1986.[6] She worked as science coordinator for the plasma wave instrument aboard the Galileo spacecraft [7] before becoming the project manager of the Galileo mission. She was the final project manager for the mission, and oversaw the spacecraft's dive into Jupiter's atmosphere at the mission's conclusion in 2003. [1]

Alexander worked as a researcher on diverse topics, including: the evolution and interior physics of comets, Jupiter and its moons, magnetospheres, plate tectonics, space plasma, the discontinuities and expansion of solar wind, and the planet Venus. She wrote or co-authored fourteen papers.[6] She was also a strong advocate for women and minorities in the STEM fields.[1]

At the time of her death, Alexander had been serving as project manager and scientist of NASA's role in Rosetta, the European Space Agency mission to study comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.[1]


In addition to her scientific work, Alexander wrote science fiction and children's books and enjoyed horseback riding.[1] [2]

Alexander died on July 11, 2015 in Arcadia, California of breast cancer.[1][5][2]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2003, Alexander was awarded the Emerald Honor for Women of Color in Research & Engineering by Career Communications Group, Inc.—publisher of Black Engineer & Information Technology Magazine—at the National Women of Color Research Sciences and Technology Conference.[8]

Alexander was a member of the American Geophysical Union—where she had served as chair of the diversity subcommittee—[9] and the Association for Women Geoscientists.[6]

In 2015 scientists from the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission honored their deceased colleague by naming a feature after her on the mission's target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. A gate-like feature on the comet has been named C. Alexander Gate.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Woo, Elaine (17 July 2015). "Claudia Alexander dies at 56; JPL researcher oversaw Galileo, Rosetta missions". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d Roberts, Sam (19 July 2015). "Claudia Alexander, NASA Manager Who Led Jupiter Mission, Dies at 56". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  3. ^ David, Leonard (21 September 2003). "Journey's End: Last Gasp for Galileo". Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Association for Women Geoscientists profile of Alexander
  5. ^ a b Lyons, Allison (13 July 2015). "In memoriam: Claudia Alexander". University of Michigan. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Dr. Claudia J. Alexander". Windows to the Universe. University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  7. ^ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette online, Scientist keeps an eye on comets by Dan Malerbo
  8. ^ a b JPL press release, Research Scientist Receives National Minority Award
  9. ^ "Claudia Alexander". Multicultural Environmental Leadership Development Initiative. Retrieved 21 July 2015. 

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