Donna Lee Shirley, manager of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, will be the commencement speaker at Scripps College on Sunday, May 17, at 3 p.m., according to Nancy Y. Bekavac, Scripps College president. The ceremony will take place on Elm Tree Lawn on the Claremont campus.
Shirley, a Scripps parent, led the team of engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena that launched the Mars Pathfinder and its rover, Sojourner. Landing on the surface of Mars on July 4, 1997, Sojourner investigated the Martian surface for nearly three months, more than ten times its expected lifetime. Named after Sojourner Truth, the legendary African American woman who led the crusade against slavery, the rover was the first small robot on the surface of another planet.
One of the few women engineers in the space program, Shirley has more than 30 years of experience in aerospace and civil systems. Throughout her career, she has managed teams of people assigned to develop space stations, robotics, automation, and planetary surface vehicles, including early versions of the rover. The author of “Managing Creativity,” Shirley has also developed a class on that subject; her autobiography, “Managing Martians,” will be published by Broadway Books in July 1998.
In addition to the Mars Exploration Program, Shirley served as a JPL mission analyst for Mariner 10, selecting the trajectory for its projected trip to Venus and Mercury and subsequently managing its navigation and mission design for the actual voyage. In 1991, she became the chief engineer of a $1.6 billion project at JPL to explore asteroids, a comet, and Saturn. She was appointed manager of the Mars Exploration Project in 1994. The program will continue to fly two missions in every Mars opportunity (every 26 months) until at least 2005.
Shirley holds a B.A. in professional writing and a B.S. in aerospace engineering, both from the University of Oklahoma, as well as a Master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. The Fielding Institute, Santa Barbara, recently accepted her into its Ph.D. program in human and organizational systems. She is a resident of La Canada, CA.
Senior class speaker at Scripps Commencement will be Elizabeth Schreiber from Encinitas, CA.