She Put the First Rover on Mars, Breaking the Glass Ceiling for Women at NASA

She Put the First Rover on Mars, Breaking the Glass Ceiling for Women at NASA

Donna Shirley pictured at her home in Tulsa, with a model of the Sojourner rover she was in charge of that explored Mars.

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When NASA's Perseverance rover landed successfully on Mars on February 18, 2021, calling it "one giant leap for mankind" – as Neil Armstrong said when he set foot on the moon in 1969 – would have been inaccurate. This year actually marked the fifth time the U.S. space agency has put a remote-controlled robotic exploration vehicle on the Red Planet. And it was a female engineer named Donna Shirley who broke new ground for women in science as the manager of both the Mars Exploration Program and the 30-person team that built Sojourner, the first rover to land on Mars on July 4, 1997.

For Shirley, the Mars Pathfinder mission was the climax of her 32-year career at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The Oklahoma-born scientist, who earned her Master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California, saw her profile skyrocket with media appearances from CNN to the New York Times, and her autobiography Managing Martians came out in 1998. Now 79 and living in a Tulsa retirement community, she still embraces her status as a female pioneer.

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Lucas Aykroyd
Lucas Aykroyd is an award-winning journalist and public speaker based in Vancouver. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Ms. Magazine, and the Globe and Mail. On assignment, he has tracked polar bears in the Canadian Arctic, gone swimming with whale sharks in Mexico, and encountered mountain gorillas in Uganda. Aykroyd has covered five Olympics and frequently contributes to Arizona State University's Global Sport Matters research project. In 2017, he founded the Irene Adler Prize, an annual $1,000 scholarship for women writers.
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