NASA started recruiting women and minorities for their space program in the 1960s. By the end of the decade, they had already employed thousands of women. But did you know who the longest-serving female employee is?
Susan G. Finley has been with NASA since January 1958. She has been an engineer and programmer for space missions since Explorer 1 and has received NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Medal.
Who is Susan G. Finley?
Susan G. Finley, a California native, has worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since January 1958, thus making her the agency’s longest-serving woman. Finley started her career at the laboratory as a human-computer two days before Explorer 1 was launched, calculating rocket launch trajectories by hand.
Finley started studying at Scripps College In 1955 to become an architect. Her understanding of engineering was extensive due to her mathematics and computing courses talents. She attempted to learn arts but soon realized that engineering was her calling. Finleyclaimed that she couldn’t learn art after three years at Scripps College. However, she majored in the humanities, which helped her succeed as a subsystem engineer. As a thermodynamics engineer, she left Scripps College at the age of 21 to work for Convair in Pomona, California.
She married Pete Finley, and the couple had two boys. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) then hired her in 1958. However, she needed to make sacrifices in her career for her family. She left JPL twice during her first several years of employment to support her husband’s schooling, as well as to take maternity leave for her two kids. Finley returned to JPL permanently in 1969.
By the 1970s, she had divorced her husband, Pete. She claims that juggling her job and family lives were challenging due to a lack of appropriate childcare options, even though she believes women still face similar challenges today.
One of her objectives was to keep her business and personal lives separate, never bringing work home with her or working late without compensating at home. She cooked all of her family’s meals but did not devote much time to housework. Her husband, on the other hand, worked on the cars and in the yard because he belonged to the generation that did not help with the house or children. (Source: Phys Org)
Susan G. Finley’s Career in NASA
In January 1958, Susan was hired to be a computer by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory one week before JPL launched Explorer 1, AAmerica’sfirst satellite. Her first employment required her to do manual trajectory computations for rocket launches. She switched careers several times at JPL as digital computers replaced the need for manual calculations. Today she is currently employed as a software tester and subsystem engineer.
By 1969, she made a permanent return to JPL. Susan worked on a range of advanced mission studies during the 1970s, calculating trajectories and orbits for various potential future missions.
In 1980, she began building software for the Deep Space Network. (DSN). In the early 1990s, Finley returned to software. She performed many tasks during the next 15 years. As of today, Susan Finley has no plans to retire. (Source: Phys Org)