Claudia Alexander had a pioneering role in the Galileo mission and was NASA’s scientist on the international Rosetta project. Credit Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times

The cause was breast cancer, her sister, Suzanne Alexander, said.

Dr. Alexander was a rarity at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for two reasons: She was a woman, and she was black. She was also considered a brilliant scientist.

She joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory after getting her doctorate and was the last project manager of the 14-year, $1.5 billion Galileo mission, which ended in 2003, and the project scientist for NASA on the European Space Agency’s Rosetta project, which launched more than a decade ago. She was responsible for $35 million in instruments to collect data on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, including its temperature.

Dr. Alexander’s areas of expertise included the evolution and physics of comets, Jupiter and its moons, Venus, plate tectonics and the stream of particles from the sun known as solar wind. She wrote or co-wrote more than a dozen scientific papers, several children’s books (including titles in the “Windows to Adventure” series, “Which of the Mountains Is Greatest of All?” and “Windows to the Morning Star”) and, for fun, science fiction.

Claudia Joan Alexander was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, on May 30, 1959, and raised in Santa Clara, Calif., during the birth of the computer revolution in the Silicon Valley. Her father, Harold, was a social worker. Her mother, the former Gaynelle Williams, was a librarian who worked for Gordon Moore, who became a co-founder of Intel.

In addition to her sister, she is survived by her brother, David.

“At the age of 5 or 6, the film ‘Fantasia’ opened an imaginative pathway of wonder for me about worlds other than Earth — primitive worlds — and how huge geological forces can impact life-forms there,” Dr. Alexander recalled in an interview with a University of Michigan alumni magazine. She also remembered watching Carl Sagan’s television series “Cosmos” a dozen or more times.

She hoped to enroll at the University of California, Berkeley, to study journalism, but her parents would pay only if she majored in “something ‘useful’ like engineering,” she said. She hated it.

She said in another interview, “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 switched to earth science.” But she had already gravitated toward planetary science, and a mentorship with the astronomer Ray T. Reynolds, during a high school summer internship with NASA.

Her favorite college memory, she said, was “staying up all night with friends arguing about which one of us was going to do the most for mankind with the research we were doing.”

She graduated from Berkeley and went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a doctorate from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Alexander was so inspired by Johannes Kepler’s research into circular orbits, what she called a lifelong dedication to “searching out a fundamental truth,” that she was thrilled even to be proved wrong when the discovery of a thin atmosphere on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede upended assumptions that it was frozen solid.

“It was an exciting moment to experience something that changed my whole way of thinking,” she recalled. “I’ve never been so happy to be wrong before.”

She was 40 when she joined the Rosetta project. Rosetta’s lander reached the comet last November.

“They said they wanted someone who was young enough who would still be around when Rosetta gets there 10 years from now,” she explained in an interview with US Black Engineer and Information Technology magazine. “And they said they chose me deliberately for my ability to get along with different cultures.”

In an interview last year with The Los Angeles Times, she recalled that as a black woman in a field dominated by white men, “I’m used to walking between two different cultures.”

“For me,” she added, “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.”

In an interview with Michigan Engineer magazine, she reminded young people that “loving your work can sometimes be as important as how much money you make.”

She also compared a scientist’s effect on society with that of other careers.

“In the annals of history,” she said, “the athletes and musicians fade, but the ones who make fundamental improvements in humankind’s way of life, and in their understanding of the universe, live on in their discoveries.”




Alex Rocco as Moe Greene in “The Godfather.” The actor emerged from the film with a collection of signature lines. Credit Paramount Pictures

The cause was cancer, his manager, Susan Zachary, said.

Mr. Rocco had fairly limited screen time in “The Godfather” (1972), but he emerged from that film with a collection of signature lines, including “You don’t buy me out. I buy you out” and “Do you know who I am?” (both spoken to the Godfather-in-waiting, played by Al Pacino), and a Hollywood reputation for stealing scenes with little more than a Boston attitude and his eyebrows.

In 1990 he won an Emmy Award for his role as a larger-than-life old-school talent agent in the well-reviewed but short-lived Jon Cryer sitcom “The Famous Teddy Z.”

Mr. Rocco’s other noteworthy films included “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973), with Robert Mitchum; “Freebie and the Bean” (1974), one of several projects he did with Alan Arkin; Tom Hanks’s “That Thing You Do!” (1996), as a fast-talking music executive; “The Wedding Planner” (2001), as Jennifer Lopez’s old-fashioned father; and “A Bug’s Life” (1998), as the voice of the grumpy grain-counting ant Thorny. (He once said of his voice work, which also included the role of a cynical cartoon producer on “The Simpsons,” “It’s like stealing money.”)

“It always seems like if I’m not killing somebody, violently, I’m playing somebody’s dad,” Mr. Rocco said in an interview with The A.V. Club in 2012. In the same interview, he talked about meeting with the director Francis Ford Coppola about the role in “The Godfather.”

He recalled saying: “I’m Italian. I wouldn’t know how to play a Jew.” Mr. Coppola, he recalled, suggested hand gestures that could differentiate the two ethnic groups. “Greatest piece of direction I ever got,” Mr. Rocco said.

Alexander Federico Petricone Jr. was a Leap Year baby, born in Cambridge, Mass., on Feb. 29, 1936, to Alexander Sr. and the former Mary Di Biase. He often told journalists that he worked in his youth for gangsters in the Winter Hill neighborhood of nearby Somerville, but an early stay at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica, Mass., turned him against a life of crime.

He never wanted to sacrifice his privacy again, he said. So he tossed a coin to decide whether to start a new life in Miami or Los Angeles. Los Angeles won.

Mr. Rocco moved to Southern California in the early 1960s and worked as a bartender while studying acting with Leonard Nimoy. His first film role was in “Motorpsycho!” (1965), a Russ Meyer special in which he played a biker-gang rapist. Between that movie and his role in “The Godfather,” he was typecast quickly in films including “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” “The Boston Strangler,” “Wild Riders” and “Blood Mania.”

Television viewers knew him best as the rough-edged father of Nancy McKeon’s character, the blue-collar student at a fancy girls’ school, on the long-running NBC series “The Facts of Life” in the 1980s. His last series was “Magic City” (2012-13), a Starz drama about mobsters in 1950s Miami.

He was most recently seen in “Scammerhead,” a noirish comedy, but two films he made are awaiting release now. In “Silver Skies,” a comic drama about eccentric retirees, he plays a nice guy, nostalgic for his days as a guard at Paramount. In “The Other,” a thriller, he’s the owner of an estate where dark, demonic things seem to happen.

Mr. Rocco married Sandie Elaine Garrett in 1966, and they had three children. She died in 2002. He married the actress Shannon Wilcox in 2005. She survives him, as do a son, Lucien; a daughter, Jennifer Rocco; a stepson, Sean Doyle; a stepdaughter, the actress Kelli Williams; a sister, Vivian De Simone; and four grandchildren. Another son, the director Marc Rocco, died in 2009.

Mr. Rocco told interviewers that he enjoyed playing gangsters, and that he used his “street energy” in show business.

 “I don’t mean you have to be overbearing, but you have to stay on top of things — read the trades, know what’s going on in the town,” he told the website in 2011. “I call it ‘dare to be stupid.’ The worst thing they can say is, ‘We got nothing for you.’ So I’ve hustled a lot.”

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