CLAUDIA ALEXANDER 1959-2015This week we lost a beloved friend and colleague, Claudia. We met her in the mid 1980's at JPL during the heady days of the Giotto spacecraft at Comet P/Halley. We even take a bit of credit for persuading her that her talents were being wasted in the job she then had at JPL and that she should go for a Ph.D., which she did at the University of Michigan under the supervision of Tamas Gombosi. Over the years we have watched her career soar to positions of great responsibility. The last was the task of Project Scientist for the Rosetta mission to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Google her name and you will find a raft of very personal obituaries from people whose lives she touched. Claudia worked hard, played hard and enjoyed many facets of life.
She stood out as an African American woman in a field dominated by white males. The Los Angeles Times talked to her about that position.
"I'm used to walking between two different cultures," she said. "For me, this is among the purposes of my life — to take us from states of ignorance to states of understanding with bold exploration that you can't do every day."
The Times also asked Alexander if she was a risk taker.
"I'm definitely not someone who enjoys physical risk. I don't want to leap out of an airplane. I don't want to go rock climbing, but I have taken on a lot of sociological risk in my life," she said. "I took on a career that nobody wanted me to do, not my family, not my friends. So I took a risk in not following the fold, let's put it that way."
Although she rose to a position of prominence, she never forgot her roots. She co-authored books on science for children, went to schools in depressed districts of Los Angeles to pitch science to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds and taught an astronomy course at Santa Monica College that was swamped with students. She was active in the Windows to the Universe project as well.
In an effort to ensure Claudia will live on in her discoveries, family members have launched a memorial STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) scholarship fund and are raising money through the website gofundme.com. Please go there and donate in her memory.
Claudia was many things to many people. To us she was first and foremost a dear friend. We miss her.