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UC Davis

NASA engineer returns to his UC Davis roots

Adam Steltzner. Courtesy photo

NASA engineer Adam Steltzner led the team that designed a crazy new approach to landing on Mars

NASA Jet Propulsion Lab lead engineer Adam Steltzner, who became a highly visible presence during last year’s Mars Curiosity Rover mission, will give a presentation at 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, in UC Davis’ 1065 Kemper Hall.

His talk is titled “The Right Kind of Crazy: Risk, Reason and Engineering Curiosity to the Surface of Mars.” Admission is free.

A graduate of UCD, Steltzner led the innovative entry, descent and landing team that guided Curiosity to its successful touchdown inside Mars’ massive Gale Crater at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, 2012.

Steltzner and his EDL team — at one point, almost 2,000 people — devised the rocket-powered “sky crane” that hovered over the planet’s surface and gently lowered Curiosity on a cable.

Steltzner discusses the development of this unique landing system in NASA’s “Seven Minutes of Terror,” a short video that has become a YouTube sensation, with more than 2 million views. See: http://youtu.be/Ki_Af_o9Q9s.

Despite the well-deserved acclaim that has followed his work on Curiosity, Steltzner almost didn’t find his scientific muse: He wanted only to play bass and drums in various new-wave bands after a lackluster high school career.

But one night in 1984, entranced by the constellation Orion while returning home from a gig, he suddenly embraced higher education with fresh enthusiasm.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UCD in 1990, and followed that with a master’s degree in applied mechanics from the California Institute of Technology and a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin.

His early projects with JPL’s Spacecraft Structures and Dynamics Group included Galileo, Cassini, the Mars Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rovers.

Among other achievements, Steltzner is credited by many for completely redefining the popular image of a rocket scientist, thanks to his rock ‘n’ roll background, pierced ears, snakeskin boots and duckbill haircut.

For more information, call 530-754-9666 or visit http://engineering.ucdavis.edu.
— UC Davis News Service

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