George Alexander, L.A. Times reporter who chronicled space exploration, dies

Days after an accidental fire on a NASA spacecraft killed three American astronauts, George Alexander peered inside the charred capsule.

As one of only three journalists allowed on the Apollo 1 spacecraft after the 1967 incident, Alexander watched as everything inside burned except for a small fragment of a parachute harness, he recalled to National Public Radio.

Two years later, Alexander wrote another chapter in the history of NASA’s lunar program, but this one had a happier ending: the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.

In a career spanning five decades, including 13 years with the Los Angeles Times, Alexander has been one of the leading chroniclers of the country’s space exploration programs, chronicling both their failures and triumphs.

On July 24, Alexander died at the age of 88 after a two-year battle with Alzheimer’s. He is survived by his wife Daryl Alexander, four children and eight grandchildren.

Alexander was born in 1934 and grew up in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. A lifelong Dodgers fan, he lived a stone’s throw from Ebbet’s Field, the team’s old home. He attended Fordham University in New York.

Prior to his long career in journalism, Alexander served in the US Air Force as a public information officer. He was later hired by Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine in New York to cover the Apollo 1 accident.

After being selected as a pool reporter by the hordes of reporters who gathered at Cape Canaveral to cover the module fire, Alexander’s account of the incident was circulated around the world.

Later that year, Alexander moved to Newsweek magazine, where he continued to cover, edit and write stories about NASA, including coverage of the 1969 moon landing.

Alexander decided to change coasts and came to LA, where he joined The Times in 1972. Although he wrote on a wide range of subjects related to science, technology, and the environment, he remained associated with reporting on NASA’s space programs, including the early shuttle launches.

As a Times contributor, Alexander was on the first flight of the Shuttle Columbia at Cape Canaveral in April 1981, the first Space Shuttle to reach space. During other shuttle launches, Alexander nestled with other reporters at Houston’s Johnson Space Center while fueled by coffee in the early hours and awaited the raspy voice of an astronaut from orbit.

After leaving The Times in 1985, Alexander transitioned to television late in his career, producing episodes for the PBS series The Infinite Voyage.

Alexander later became spokesman for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at La Cañada Flintridge and worked on media affairs for various major NASA missions such as the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft, as well as missions to Mars and Venus, until his retirement in 1999.

At the end of his career, Alexander offered a skeptical, measured perspective on the idea of ​​putting humans into space, asking in a 2011 editorial for The Times after NASA’s shuttle program ended, “So, was it worth it?”

He reflected on the loss of 14 men and women aboard the Challenger and Columbia shuttles and the $290 billion in taxpayer dollars spent building, testing and operating the spacecraft.

“Looking back at the Shuttle program, I think it’s clear that there are valid roles for humans in space,” he wrote. “But it’s hard not to conclude that some shuttle missions have felt like make-work projects undertaken to keep astronauts in orbit rather than because they were essential.” George Alexander, L.A. Times reporter who chronicled space exploration, dies

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