Women in Technology Hall of Fame

Donna Shirley

Donna Shirley

Retired, Manager, Mars Exploration Program

Inducted in 1997

With more than forty years of experience in the engineering of aerospace and civil systems; instruction at the University of Oklahoma as an assistant dean; and management over the Mars Exploration Program, Donna retired in 2003 to develop her company, Managing Creativity. As the president of Managing Creativity, Donna offers her advice through speaking, consulting, and training on the management of creative teams.

In 1998, Donna retired as the manager of the Mars Exploration Program after a 32-year career with NASA in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). She was the first woman to manage flight hardware at the JPL in Pasadena, California; the first woman to manage a spaceflight program; the first woman to manage a NASA program; and the first woman engineer at the JPL.

On July 4, 1997, the entire world watched as the Mars Pathfinder and the Sojourner Rover successfully landed on Mars. Donna led the Sojourner Truth team, the first team of any planetary rover. This robotics team developed a revolutionary robot that landed on Mars aboard the Pathfinder. The Pathfinder Mission was the United States’ first attempt at landing on Mars in 20 years, and Sojourner was the world’s first robotic planetary rover, proving rovers could work on Mars.

After the discovery that rovers could work on Mars, the next rover missions from Spirit and Opportunity are still operating on the red planet.

Sojourner exceeded all expectations, as it sent spectacular images of the Martian landscape back to earth. Millions of people tracking mission progress watched over the Internet as the first images emerged.

Donna went on to win the Washington Award in 2000, which is an award for American engineers and was formally inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003. She is also the recipient of four honorary doctorates.

Donna is the author of "Managing Martians," published in 1998 and 1999, and "Managing Creativity: A Practical Guide to Inventing, Developing, and Producing Innovative Products," available at her website.

Managing Creativity
NASA Oral History Project: "Herstory"