Donna Shirley
Former Manager, Mars Exploration Program
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

Personal Information

I was raised in Wynnewood, Oklahoma and now live in LaCanada, California, almost right next door to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. My 19-year-old daughter, Laura, is a sophomore at Scripps College for Women in Claremont, Calif. We used to act in plays together but now that she's in school I just do acting without her. My daughter and I take at least a couple of vacations each year together. In January we're going to New Zealand. I'm the membership chairman of a community theater group this year. I've written a first draft of a book on "Managing Creativity,"which is being reviewed right now. In the winter I ski. In the summer I used to backpack in the mountains, but I've been too busy for the last couple of years. I also play the guitar and write/sing folk songs. In the past I've done oil painting and some crafts, and this semester I'm taking an acting class. I also take short courses and classes in useful subjects like management, geology and Russian.

Likes About Career

The best part about my job is being part of program to explore Mars.


I started college right after the launch of Explorer 1, the first U.S. orbiter of the Earth and studied to build airplanes. But I've spent most of my career working on space. I'd probably have taken different courses in school if I had to do it all over again. The main thing is to be flexible. Usually you don't get to work in the same field your whole career. If you get a sound technical education and are willing to learn and work hard throughout your life you'll be okay and will get to do some fun stuff!

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