In space, no one can hear a feminist scream

THE MAGAZINE spreads on the Stars of Mars, the live television pictures from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said it all: a couple of dozen grinning scientists pumping their fists in the air, gung- ho buddies in beards and glasses, every last one of them men.

The only woman in the picture, it appeared, was the Mars rover herself, named after an escaped woman slave, and fondly referred to as a "she". Unlike Dr Who's K-9, or Star Wars 3CPO, Sojourner was plainly a girl, faithfully combing the surface of the Red Planet under orders from the men at mission control.

There are, in fact, two females on the Mars team. While Sojourner hogged the limelight from space this week, snapping postcard pictures of the Martian dawn, on Earth, it was 55-year-old Donna Shirley who was giving the interviews to CNN and Good Morning America.

Viewers might well have assumed that Shirley was just a spokeswoman for the Mars mission with a gift of the gab and plenty of pithy anecdotes. In fact, she runs it. "I am manager of the Mars Exploration Program," is how Donna Shirley introduces herself on a chatty Nasa World Wide Web site for schoolchildren alongside a jolly photo of herself in a yellow plastic map. "Currently, I manage three flight projects and the studies of future projects to Mars."

When she took science classes rather than home economics in her Bible- belt school in a tiny Oklahoma town, she says, she was constantly ribbed. When she enrolled in aeronautical engineering at college, en route to a master's degree, her shocked adviser told her: "Girls can't be engineers." Thirty years later space science is still a man's world. Twenty-three women astronauts have flown on the shuttle. Dr Jan Davis, 53, will make her third flight as a mission specialist this week. But few women apply to the astronaut corps, a Nasa spokeswoman said.

The early pioneers of the final frontier were all men. Today the gender gap is most pronounced in the boffins' back rooms, where women have struggled to make and maintain their inroads, as they have in other science fields.

In the 1990s, the consoles at Mission Control in Cape Canaveral are almost all "manned", just as they were for the launch and rescue of Apollo 13. "We're two for two," Shirley announced triumphantly when Pathfinder lifted off, shortly after Global Surveyor, another, slower, Martian mission that she oversees.

Mother to one daughter, divorced from another JPL scientist, Shirley is credited with creating and managing the low-budget effort that turned a lovable 22lb robot into the biggest space sensation since Neil Armstrong. No shrinking violet, she boasts that "everyone said it could not be done ... I convinced headquarters to spend the money on the project. I assembled the team."

Her resume noted she spends "five to 10 hours a week" on media interviews, even before the explosion of publicity on Pathfinder.

Shirley has been one of the boys at the JPL laboratory since 1966, when she arrived as an aerodynamicist on an early Mars lander mission that was later cancelled by Congress. She was inspired by Arthur C Clarke's book Sands of Mars, about a Martian colony, which she read at the age of 12. Over the past 30 years, she has assembled an encylopaedic knowledge of the planet.

"I think she advanced to a position of real leadership because she is unusually capable, and she was able to articulate her case so well," a former JPL director told the Los Angeles Times. Since she took the top job, she has hired six people, three women and one black man. She is not apologetic for appointments that seem politically, and sexually, correct. "It is true that women have to work harder than men to get as far, because most of the managers are men."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
people
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Support Assistant - Hampshire - up to 40K

£25000 - £40000 per annum + 23 days holiday Pension Scheme: Deerfoot IT Resour...

Foundation / Year 1 Teacher - Long Term - Salford

£90 - £130 per day + competitive rates, pension scheme: Randstad Education Man...

.Net Developer -London - up to 55K

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits : Deerfoot IT Resources Limited...

Long Term Primary Teacher - Oldham - Start September 2014

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Manchester Primary: Key Stage 1 Teache...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil