Donna Shirley, manager of NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and original leader of the team that built the highly acclaimed Mars Pathfinder rover, will retire August 21.
An aerospace engineer and author who joined the Laboratory 32 years ago, Shirley is best known for her work on the first rover to explore the surface of Mars. Her recent book, "Managing Martians," includes a chronicle of the adventures of the Mars Pathfinder rover team which built the 10.6-kilogram (23-pound), six-wheeled robotic explorer named Sojourner, as well as the story of the Mars Global Surveyor team.
She was named manager of the Mars Exploration Program Office when it was established in August 1994. The office coordinates all facets of the planning and implementation of NASA's long-term program of robotic exploration of Mars.
An aerodynamicist by training, Shirley joined JPL's former Engineering Mechanics Division in 1966. She served in a variety of positions in engineering systems analysis for space missions, worked on new space technologies with terrestrial applications, was the mission analyst for the Mariner Venus-Mercury mission in the early 1970s, and played an instrumental role in the 1980s and 1990s in the development of automation, robotics and mobile surface vehicles.
Shirley headed a 1979 study of a Saturn orbiter and probe that eventually led to Cassini, an international mission to the ringed planet, mounted by NASA with the European Space Agency and Italian Space Agency, which was launched in October 1997. In 1990-91, she acted as project engineer for the Cassini flight project. The spacecraft will reach Saturn in 2004 and deploy the Huygens probe, which will descend to the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
She led work at JPL in the 1980s supporting an early version of NASA's space station and developed concepts for automated mobile vehicles to be used on planetary surfaces, with an emphasis on the Moon and Mars. She also led NASA-wide teams which developed systems engineering and management processes for the agency in the early 1990s.
Born in Wynnewood, OK, Shirley received a bachelor's degree in technical writing in 1963 and a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Oklahoma in Norman. She earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering in 1968 from the University of Southern California. She is currently working on a doctorate in human and organizational development at the Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, CA.
Shirley is a recipient of several NASA group achievement awards, including those for her work on the 1973 Mariner 10 mission to Venus and Mercury and the 1985 Space Station Task Force, and has been awarded the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal. In addition to her recent book on her experiences in the Mars program, she is the author of another book, "Managing Creativity," which is published on the Internet.
A past president of the Caltech Management Association, Shirley resides in La Canada-Flintridge and has one adult daughter, Laura.