Donna Shirley

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Donna Shirley
Born Donna Shirley
Pauls Valley, OK
Occupation Aerospace and mechanical engineer, author
Known for Former manager of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA

Donna Lee Shirley (born 1941) is a former manager of Mars Exploration at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is the author of the book Managing Martians: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman's Lifelong Quest to Get to Mars—and of the Team Behind the Space Robot That Has Captured the Imagination of the World.

Asteroid 5624 Shirley was named in her honor.

Early life[edit]

Shirley was born in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma and grew up in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.[1] As a young girl, Shirley was actively involved with her Girl Scouts troop and played the oboe. Shirley was the only girl at her high school not to take home economics. Instead, Shirley took mechanical drawing. Her interest in Mars and space exploration began when she read The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke. She began taking flying lessons at age 15.[2] She earned a pilot's license at 16.[3] After graduating from college, Shirley took up skiing and hiking in California.


During Shirley's junior year at the University of Oklahoma, she became engaged and decided to change her degree to professional-writing in order to graduate faster. A short time later, Shirley and her fiancé split up. She went to work as a specification writer for McDonnell Aircraft for about a year and eventually decided to return to OU to complete her engineering degree.[4] She graduated from University of Oklahoma with a BS in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering in 1965, and from the University of Southern California with a MS in Aerospace Engineering.[5]


She worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) from 1966 to 1998. She was Mars Exploration Program manager,[6] and led teams for Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner (rover).[7] In 1997 she was inducted into the Women in Technology Hall of Fame, and in 1998 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame.[2] In 2000 she won the Washington Award and in 2003 was inducted in the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame. She was an associate dean of engineering for three years at the University of Oklahoma between 2000 and 2003. She then went on to be the founding director of the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. After retiring from the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in 2004, she became President of Managing Creativity, a platform where she shares her strategies for using the collective creativity of groups to develop ideas, then efficiently and effectively turn them into products. She has become a well-known educator, speaker, and consultant who draws from her prior professional experience.

Shirley officially retired as manager of the Mars Exploration Program on August 21, 1998.[8]



  1. ^ "Donna Shirley Biography". Academy of Achievement. Retrieved 2014-06-02. 
  2. ^ a b Moore, Bill. "Shirley, Donna L.". Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  3. ^ "Donna Shirley: Inventor of the Week". MIT. 2002. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Nykolaiszyn, Juliana (March 14, 2011). "Oral history interview with Donna Shirley". Inductees of the Oklahoma Women's Hall of Fame Oral History Project. Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  5. ^ "Misc Information For James Shirley Branch: Donna Lee Shirley". 1997-07-04. Retrieved 2014-06-02. 
  6. ^ "Mars Global Surveyor Arrival press kit" (PDF). NASA. September 1997. Retrieved 2014-06-02. 
  7. ^ "Shirley, Donna L. (1941- )". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. Retrieved 2014-06-02. 
  8. ^ "Mars Exploration Program Manager Donna Shirley to Retire." Press Release by Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. August 20,1998. Accessed February 28, 2016.

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