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Managing Martians Paperback – June 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Donna Shirley dreamed of going to Mars since she was a starstruck kid in Oklahoma, reading science fiction and staring up at the big Western sky. Managing Martians chronicles her life from flight-obsessed childhood to the realization of her dream as manager of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Exploration Program--the people who sent Pathfinder and the rover Sojourner to the red planet in 1997.

Shirley's story is extraordinary in its simplicity: she set her sights on what she wanted, and chased it fervently. Yet simple doesn't always mean easy, and Shirley owns up to getting sidetracked along the way, and having to work hard to get back to business. And what a business! Imagine having an expensive, delicate object you helped design strapped to a projectile hurtling toward a chunk of rock in space. The best parts of Shirley's story are the tense moments, when she struggled to maintain professional cool while under enormous stress. This book is part autobiography, part lesson to bureaucratic managers; Shirley has had to work with some temperamental folks in her lifetime of government work, and she's learned (the hard way) how to manage teams well. One gets the impression that she would have made an excellent military leader, or CEO. Mars buffs all over the world should be glad she stuck to the stars. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

What do you do if you are a tomboy daughter of the two most prominent families of Wynnewood, Okla., a small town in the middle of the U.S. in the middle of the 20th century? If you're Shirley, you set a course for Mars. Along the way, even if you smell of airplane glue instead of White Shoulders, you enter horse shows; and even if you are struggling academically and socially as the only female engineering student in your class at the University of Oklahoma, you enter and win the Miss Wynnewood contest. In this autobiography as unself-conscious as Shirley apparently is herself, the first woman to manage a NASA space flight program invites readers to follow her adventures, beginning with an awkward childhood, through four decades of failure and success, culminating not in an end but in a new beginning. "Where do you go after you've been to Mars?" her epilogue asks. "Where do you go after you've reached the pinnacle of what you imagined for yourself?" The answer is to pursue a new passion, to discover once again what you want to do when you grow up. "The question is only: Which passion do I want to pursue?" she declares. "Stay tuned." This book will certainly appeal to unconventional women, but it also belongs on the reading list of teenage nerds and adult former nerds, of anyone who has ever misstepped, of anyone who has ever been uncertain, of anyone of any age who still dreams of reaching beyond the horizon. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. $65,000 ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; First Edition edition (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767902416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767902410
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #584,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A century from now, when this year's Oscar-winning films, hit sitcoms, and top ten CDs are gathering dust in some media archive, and the feats of contemporary sports figures are known only to the most compulsive of trivia buffs, school children will be studying the pioneering missions of space exploration such as Mars Pathfinder-Sojourner. "Managing Martians" by Donna Shirley gives the reader a rare insight into the occupational culture that made these epic adventures possible.
Readers who are familiar with the "Mars and Venus" series of books on the psychological differences between men and women will no doubt catch the double meaning of the book's title. Much of Ms. Shirley's autobiographical narrative describes her struggle to reach her career goals in a historically male-dominated profession during the Sixties. It is a world in which pioneering women swim against the stream in a culture in which young women were (and to some extent, still are) taught that studying subjects such as science, math, and technical drawing was "unladylike", and the few women who did continue their education beyond high school were pressured to graduate with an "Mrs." degree and settle into the cozy, familiar role of middle class housewife-mother. Her interests in science fiction, flying, and a life of adventure set her apart from her peers, and she manages to avoid the cultural traps set for her and perseveres in her aim of becoming an aerospace engineer.
In the last part of the book, Shirley relates the challenges and frustrations of managing a space project against a background of tightfisted budgets. The NASA of the 1990's is no longer awash in cash, and a spirit of "make-do-or-do-without" pervades the organization.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert L. Miller on August 25, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Since she was a kid in flat Wynnewood, Okla., reading Arthur C. Clarke novels and staring at the sky, Donna Shirley dreamed of going to Mars. Her book chronicles her life from flight-obsessed preteen, to hometown beauty queen, to the realization of her dream as manager of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Exploration Program. Her team sent Pathfinder and the rover Sojourner to the red planet in 1997, and rebuilt ways of managing spacecraft missions along the way.
As you might expect in a book with this title, covering all of the above, sometimes the subject matter is stretched very thin. This is in some parts a book that tries to do too much, and the autobiographical sections on Donna Shirley's childhood, her experiences becoming licensed as a pilot, seem somewhat out of place in a book such as this. Make no mistake, there are lessons here, about glass ceilings and reaching for childhood dreams, but they are never fully realized, or completely developed, in the text. I have heard many woman express an interest in reading this book for Shirley's opinions on how women should deal with male-dominated fields, and how, or even if, they should "prove" themselves in positions of power, but there is little that enlightens that aspect of the book. One of the best quotes, however, from Shirley, concerning her new found fame as a female role model, sums up part of the problem in one sentence: "Our culture is so starved for female role models, that a woman who simply shows up on TV becomes a hero." Unfortunately too obviously true, and a shame on our society.
However, Shirley's story is extraordinary, and compelling in her fervent chase of her goals. Shirley has had to work hard, sometimes at great sacrifice, for this business.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jim Kirk on February 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
While I'm sure that many readers found Ms. Shirley's tales of overcoming chauvanism uplifiting and fascinating, I personally found them irritating and grating. Much of the early part of the book (detailing her childhood and young adulthood) deals with the author coming into conflict, again and again, with overt male chauvanism. Each and every time the author overcomes such hardships through her hard work and gumption. While I have no objection to such tales in general, I felt that in this case they took a lot of momentum out of the book and revealed a lot of lingering anger (towards men in general) on the part of the author. Also, the author has little insight into these episodes and altercations, and recounts them in such a one sided way (i.e.-"I was honest and true and they were evil and prejudiced...") that I was hard pressed to believe that she was recalling them accurately.
Nonetheless, the book does finally move on to the story of the Mars Pathfinder Mission, which was what I was really interested in hearing about. Ms. Shirley gives a good description of life at JPL and also does a nice job in discussing the technical hurdles to be overcome in such a far-reaching endeavour. I especially enjoyed the chapters about the development of the rover, as they did not gloss over a lot of interesting technical details (as other books dealing with Pathfinder have).
Overall this was a good book that could have been a great book. Ms. Shirley has really given us two books:An autobiography and a book about the Mars Pathfinder. I would have preferred the latter without the former.
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