Claudia Alexander

by / Tuesday, 21 February 2017 / Published in BHM 2017

February 21, 2017

The National Society of Black Physicists honors Dr. Claudia Alexander.

Dr. Claudia Alexander

Dr. Claudia Alexander

Dr. Claudia Joan Alexander was born May 30, 1959, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  She was an African American (raised in Santa Clara, California) research scientist specializing in geophysics and planetary science.

Born in Canada, but raised in California, a young Alexander was interested in journalism, but her parents wanted her to be an engineer.  After a summer job at the Ames Research Center, she became interested in planetary science.  In 1983, she received her Bachelor’s from the University of California, Berkeley in geophysics.  In 1985, she earned her Master’s from the University of California, Los Angeles in geophysics and space physics.  For her Ph.D., she attended the University of Michigan and earned a doctorate in physics in space plasma in 1993.  For her extraordinary accomplishment, the University of Michigan named her “Woman of the Year.”

After completing her doctorate degree, Dr. Alexander worked at the United States Geological Survey studying plate tectonics and the Ames Research Center observing Jovian moons, before she joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1986.  She was the last project manager of the 14-year, $1.5 billion Galileo mission, which ended in 2003 after overseeing the spacecraft’s dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere.  After this project, she became the project scientist for NASA on the European Space Agency’s Rosetta project.  She was responsible for $35 million in instruments to collect data on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, including its temperature.  She was particularly keen on engaging the public in space science.  In doing so, she spearheaded Rosetta’s efforts to engage the public and amateur astronomers through social media and recognize the value of their ground-level observations of the spacecraft’s path towards space.  She then developed a Facebook group where members of the amateur community post comments on their sightings and interact with her and other scientists.

Dr. Claudia Joan Alexander her position at NASA on the Rosetta Project until her death on July 11, 2015, in Arcadia, California, after a ten-year battle with breast cancer.  During Dr. Alexander’s short but productive life, she enjoyed horseback riding, writing science fiction, and children’s books.  In 2003, she was awarded the Emerald Honor for Women of Color in Research & Engineering by Career Communication Group Inc. (publisher of Black Engineer & Information Technology Magazine) at the National Women of Color Research Sciences and Technology Conference.  She was a member and the chair of the Diversity Subcommittee of the American Geophysical Union and the Association for Women Geoscientists.  After her death in 2015, scientists from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission honored her legacy 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 (see below).