NASA engineer and media sensation Adam Steltzner is the face of the Mars Science Laboratory mission scheduled to land on the Red Planet early Monday morning (Aug. 6). So far, media attention to Stelzner’s Mars landing team far exceeds its accomplishments.
Steltzner comes across as a bit of a hipster (two pierced ears), media savvy and relentlessly honest about the risks of the mission to land the nearly 1-ton rover Curiosity in a predetermined spot on Mars, Gale Crater. The low-lying site is believed to be among the best places to find evidence that Mars once harbored the ingredients for life.
Steltzner also represents a new breed of engineer. The Bay Area native is a rocker, as the Elvis haircut attests. He eventually discarded “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll” to earn a PhD in engineering physics. “Engineering gave me an opportunity to be gainfully employed, really understanding my world with these laws and equations that govern it,” Steltzner told NPR’s Joe Palca in an interview broadcast on Friday (Aug. 3).
Adam Steltzner, head of NASA JPL's Mars landing team, and his sky crane lander.
Putting his doctorate to good use, Steltzner said he needed “a little bit of sexy.” That’s how he ended up at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he has worked for the last decade designing, testing and building the sky crane landing technique that will be used to lower Curiosity to the surface. (NASA’s all-out media blitz for the Mars landing will include live pictures from JPL mission control on giant video screens in Times Square in Manhattan.)
Let’s hope that Adam Steltzner’s Mars spacecraft design is as good as his social media skills, which rival those of astrophysicist Carl Sagan in the annals of planetary science.Click here
to listen to NPR’s interview with Steltzner.Related story:New simulation, testing tools used to design Mars lander