Managing Martians

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Broadway Books, 1998 - Technology & Engineering - 276 pages
The leader of the team that created the revolutionary Mars Sojourner rover chronicles her trailblazing career in space exploration and tells the fascinating, behind-the-scenes story of the celebrated Mars Pathfinder mission.
Donna Shirley's 35-year career as an aerospace engineer reached a jubilant pinnacle in July 1997 when Sojourner--the solar-powered, self-guided, microwave-oven-sized rover--was seen exploring the Martian landscape in Pathfinder's spectacular images from the surface of the red planet.
The event marked a milestone in space exploration--no vehicle had ever before roamed the surface of another planet. But for Donna Shirley, the manager of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Exploration Program who headed the mostly male team that designed and built Sojourner, it marked a triumph of another kind. Since her childhood in Oklahoma, Shirley had dreamed of traveling to Mars, and, through Pathfinder, she did just that.
"Managing Martians is Shirley's captivating memoir of a life and career spent reaching for the stars. From her seemingly outlandish aspiration at age ten to build aircraft, to abandoning high school Home Ec in favor of mechanical drawing, and, at sixteen, becoming a licensed pilot, Shirley defied expectations from the beginning.
The only female engineering student in her college class, Shirley earned a degree in aerospace/mechanical engineering (while picking up a beauty contest title along the way) and, in 1966, began a career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that has spanned twenty-four different projects, including Mariner 10's trip to Venus and Mercury and a 1991 assignment as chief engineer of a $1.6 billion project to explore asteroids, acomet, and Saturn.
Shirley's innovations in automation and robotics paved the way to her being named the first woman ever to manage a NASA program. For Pathfinder she assembled a brilliant band of upstarts (her fellow "Martians") and embarked on an improbable mission: to put an untethered, fully automated rover on Mars--at a fraction of the cost of any previous Mars project.
In a vivid narrative, rich with anecdotes and thrilling turning points, Shirley recounts the intense battles she waged to defend her vision and the ingenuity and resourcefulness of her committed team. Her moment-by-cliffhanging-moment account of Pathfinder's landing and Sojourner's first tentative foray across the sands of Mars brilliantly captures the fulfillment of a lifelong dream as it heralds a brave new era of space exploration.

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To paraphrase the old soap opera: Can a rich girl from a small Oklahoma town find success and happiness married to her job as first woman manager of a NASA space program? The answer is a resounding ... Read full review


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About the author (1998)

One of the world's best known aerospace engineers, Donna Shirley is Manager of the Mars Exploration Program at the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  She is the recipient of numerous honors, including NASA's Outstanding Leadership Medal and an induction into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.  The Mars Exploration Program is currently preparing to launch two Mars Surveyor '98 missions, the next in a series of forthcoming Mars explorations.  A native of Wynnewood, Oklahoma, Shirley lives in La Canada-Flintridge, California.  

Danelle Morton is a Los Angeles-based staff correspondent for People magazine.

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