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Dr. Claudia Alexander was a leading scientist at NASA who oversaw the tail end of one of the space agency’s most successful missions. Dr. Alexander, who served as the last project manager of the Galileo Jupiter mission, lost her battle with cancer on July 11 at the age 56.

Alexander was born May 30, 1959 in Vancouver, Canada and raised in Santa Clara, Calif. Alexander wanted to be a journalist but her parents would only pay for college if she took courses for what they deemed  a “useful” career according to an interview with NASA. Alexander studied engineering at the University of California-Berkeley, graduating from the school in 1983 with a degree in geophysics.

While in undergrad, she discovered a love of planetary science while interning at NASA, which shifted her career forever.

Alexander then attended UCLA and graduated with a master’s in geophysics and space physics. Alexander earned her P.H.D. in space plasma physics in 1993 from the University of Michigan and was named UM’s Woman Of The Year.

Alexander joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California in 1986, and achieved  notoriety in the field of space exploration after she was named the final project manager for the Galileo project. The Galileo probe landed on Jupiter in December 1995, sending unprecedented data about the massive planet back to Earth.

Alexander’s most recent post was her work with the European Space Agency as part of the Rosetta Comet Chaster project. The Rosetta space probe landed on the  67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet last fall, and is collecting data as it orbits the sun. Alexander also worked as a science coordinator for the Cassini mission to Saturn.

Although Alexander wasn’t a household name, she gave up much of her personal time to mentor young people, especially African-American girls. Alexander also wrote two science books for children, and was a fan of the Steampunk science fiction movement and wrote stories in the genre.

On NASA’s Solar System Exploration website, a glowing tribute was posted along with a series of moving testimonials from her colleagues.