Image from NASA video Seven Minutes of Terror (June 2012)
|Born||Adam Diedrich Steltzner
1963 (age 53–54)
Alameda County, California
|Institutions||NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of California, Davis
California Institute of Technology
|Alma mater||University of Wisconsin–Madison|
|Thesis||Input force estimation, inverse structural systems and the inverse structural filter (1999)|
|Doctoral advisor||Daniel C. Kammer|
|Known for||Mars Pathfinder
Mars Exploration Rovers
Mars Science Laboratory
Adam Diedrich Steltzner (born 1963) is an American NASA engineer who works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He worked on several flight projects including Galileo, Cassini, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rovers (MER). He was the lead engineer of the Mars Science Laboratory's EDL phase (Entry, Descent and Landing), and helped design, build and test the sky crane landing system.
The media has portrayed Steltzner as a "rock and roll" engineer. NPR's Morning Edition said "he has pierced ears, wears snakeskin boots and sports an Elvis haircut," while the EE Times called him "a bit of a hipster" and a "new breed of engineer" who is media savvy.
Steltzner, born 1963, is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area and came from a family that was financially well off, his father being the heir to the Schilling spice fortune. He struggled in classes in high school, earned a failing grade in geometry, and was told by his father he would never amount to anything but a ditch digger. "I was sort of studying sex, drugs and rock and roll in high school," says Steltzner. After high school he played bass and drums in new wave bands. He studied jazz at Berklee College of Music in Boston, for less than a year. As The New Yorker put it, "He was a college dropout and small-town playboy (he briefly dated the model Carré Otis), an assistant manager at an organic market and an occasional grower of weed. He had few skills and fewer prospects." Around 1984, while driving home from music gigs at night, he noticed how the position of the constellation Orion was in a different place than before. This fascinated him, so he decided to take an astronomy class at College of Marin, but he was required to complete a class in physics first, and it was there he had a revelation: nature could be understood and predicted. As Steltzner put it, "I had found religion." By 1985 he quit music and devoted himself full-time to the challenge of school. His education included Tamalpais High School (1981) and College of Marin ; a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering at University of California, Davis (1990); a Master of Science degree in applied mechanics at California Institute of Technology (1991); and a PhD in engineering mechanics at University of Wisconsin–Madison (1999).
Steltzner is married to wife Trisha, who also works at JPL, and has two daughters, Caledonia and Olive. His second daughter was born three weeks after the Mars landing in 2012.
Steltzner published an autobiographical book in 2016 titled The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership, and High-Stakes Innovation, a memoir of his time at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the building of the Mars Science Laboratory. In October 2016, he was admitted into the National Academy of Engineering. Steltzner speaks publicly on the topics of leadership, innovation, team building, and the power of curiosity and exploration.
Steltzner is employed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he has worked for about ten years designing, testing and building the sky crane landing system for the Curiosity rover. Steltzner was phase lead and development manager for EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing) of the lander, which successfully landed on Mars on August 5, 2012. The sky crane is an entirely new technology system, Steltzner said of it "When people look at it...it looks crazy. That's a very natural thing. Sometimes when we look at it, it looks crazy. It is the result of reasoned, engineering thought. But it still looks crazy." The sky crane allows for a precise landing ellipse opening up many areas of Mars for exploration that were previously inaccessible due to uneven terrain.
Steltzner joined JPL in 1991, in the Spacecraft Structures and Dynamics group. He worked on several flight projects including the Shuttle–Mir Program, Galileo, Cassini, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) and Mars Science Laboratory as well as several mission proposals, pre-Phase A projects and technology development efforts. Initially employed as a structures and mechanics personnel, he gravitated towards landing events and Mars Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) systems. He was the landing systems engineer on the cancelled comet mission Champollion and the mechanical systems lead for EDL on MER. When asked what he would like to do next, Steltzner says, "I'd like to see a Mars sample return. I'd like to land on the surface of Europa – the most likely place in the solar system for life. And third, I'd like to float a boat on the methane lakes of Titan."
As of 2017, Steltzner is the chief engineer of the Mars 2020 project, which will launch a Curiosity-class rover to Mars in 2020. The mission will take Martian surface samples and rock cores for potential return to Earth by a later mission.
Steltzner is often profiled by the press in human interest stories with a focus on a "rock and roll" engineer image; for example he was called "the face of the 2012 Mars Science Laboratory mission" by the EE Times, who also called him "a bit of a hipster"; he was interviewed on National Public Radio which noted his "Elvis haircut", and profiled again on NPR in a piece called "Red Planet, Green Thumb: How A NASA Scientist Engineers His Garden". Steltzner also participated on the NPR radio quiz program Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! in 2012. He has been profiled similarly in other sources. A chapter-length biography of Steltzner in the book Going to Mars (2004) is titled "Elvis Lives" after the rock and roll star who Steltzner supposedly resembles, which Esquire said "calls back to NASA's halcyon days in the late 50's and early 60's".
He was among the scientists and engineers featured on the NOVA episode "Mars Dead or Alive" (2004), which chronicled the process that ultimately delivered the rovers Spirit and Opportunity to Mars. The episode was nominated for an Emmy in 2004. He also appeared in the NOVA episodes "Welcome to Mars" (2005) and "The Great Math Mystery" (2015), Roadtrip Nation (2014), and other TV documentaries including Countdown to Mars (2003), Bouncing to Mars (2003), Spirit of Exploration (2005), What Went Right (2006), Mars Rising episodes "Journey to the Red Planet" and "Seven Minutes of Terror" (2007), and Horizon episodes "Mission to Mars: A Horizon Special" (2012) and "Man on Mars: Mission to the Red Planet" (2014). Steltzner appeared on the news program Studio B with Shepard Smith on August 6, 2012.
Awards and honors
- 2012 Nature named Steltzner one of 10 most important scientists of the year
- 2012 World Technology Award in Ethics given by the International Society for Ethics and Information Technology
- 2013 Smithsonian magazine's American Ingenuity Award in the Technology category
- 2013 Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering presented by the National Space Society to the Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) team
- 2014 Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)
- 2014 Astronautics Engineer Award given by the National Space Club as part of the Goddard Memorial Dinner Awards
- 2016 Inducted into the National Academy of Engineering
- "Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror". NASA.gov. June 22, 2012. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
- Palca, Joe (August 3, 2012). "Crazy Smart: When A Rocker Designs A Mars Lander". NPR. Retrieved August 5, 2012. See also transcript of audio portion.
- Steltzner, Adam (1999). Input force estimation, inverse structural systems and the inverse structural filter (PhD thesis). University of Wisconsin–Madison.
- Kammer, D. C.; Steltzner, A. D. (2001). "Structural Identification of Mir Using Inverse System Dynamics and Mir/Shuttle Docking Data". Journal of Vibration and Acoustics. 123 (2): 230. doi:10.1115/1.1355030.
- Steltzner, A.; Kipp, D.; Chen, A.; et al. (2006). Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent, and Landing System. 2006 IEEE Aerospace Conference. Big Sky, Montana. doi:10.1109/AERO.2006.1655796. ISBN 0-7803-9545-X.
- Prakash, R.; Burkhart, P. D.; Chen, A.; et al. (March 1–8, 2008). Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent, and Landing System Overview. 2008 IEEE Aerospace Conference. Big Sky, Montana. pp. 1–18. doi:10.1109/AERO.2008.4526283. ISBN 978-1-4244-1487-1.
- Leopold, George (August 3, 2012). "Adam Steltzner, NASA's hipster rocket engineer". EE Times. Retrieved August 5, 2012.
- Bosch, Torie (August 6, 2012). "Forget the Nerdy Image: Mars Rover Curiosity Team Includes 'Mohawk Guy' and Former Rock 'n' Roller". Slate. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
- Hand, Eric (December 20, 2012). "366 days: Nature's 10 – Adam Steltzner: Our man on Mars". Nature. 492 (7429): 335–343. Bibcode:2012Natur.492..335.. doi:10.1038/492335a. PMID 23257862.
- Muirhead, Brian; Reeves-Stevens, Judith; Reeves-Stevens, Garfield (2004). Going to Mars: The Stories of the People Behind NASA's Mars Missions Past, Present, and Future. New York City: Pocket Books. pp. 169–172. ISBN 0671027964.
- Bilger, Burkhard (April 22, 2013). "The Martian Chroniclers". The New Yorker. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
- Krieger, Lisa; Prado, Mark (August 6, 2012). "Tamalpais High School graduate has hand in Mars rover landing". Marin Independent Journal. Archived from the original on August 8, 2012.
- Borenstein, Seth; Chang, Alicia (August 16, 2012). "Tam grad involved in Mars mission gains attention as part of new geek chic: mohawks are in, pocket protectors out". Associated Press via Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
- "Systems Engineering Seminar: System Engineering Challenges of the Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) System; A tale in three acts". NASA.gov. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. November 10, 2009. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
- "MSL Entry, Descent & Landing Update at Mars Society Convention". Mars Society. June 12, 2012. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
- Steltzner, Adam (2016). The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership, and High-Stakes Innovation. Portfolio. ISBN 1-59184-692-7.
- Platt, Jane (9 February 2016). "Mars Landing Pioneer Elected to National Academy of Engineering". NASA. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
- "Adam Steltzner". Keppler Speakers. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
- "The Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror" (PDF). NASA.gov. June 22, 2012. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
- "PIA14839: Curiosity's Sky Crane Maneuver, Artist's Concept". NASA.gov. Jet Propulsion Laboratory. October 3, 2011.
- Squyres, Steven W. (2005). Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet. New York City: Hyperion. pp. 128–138. ISBN 1401301495.
- Coulter, Dauna D. (September 21, 2012). "Why Curiosity Matters". NASA.gov. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Palca, Joe (August 10, 2012). "So You Landed On Mars. Now What?". NPR. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
- Davis, Rebecca (August 4, 2012). "Red Planet, Green Thumb: How A NASA Scientist Engineers His Garden". NPR. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
- Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! from NPR
- Benderly, Beryl (August 3, 2012). "Good Rockin' (Maybe) Monday". Science. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
- "Not My Job: We Quiz NASA Engineers On Mars Candy". NPR. August 11, 2012. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
- Bell, Matthew (August 7, 2012). "The NASA-Guy Style We Can Actually Endorse". Esquire. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
- "Mars Dead or Alive". Nova. Season 31. Episode 9. Transcript. January 4, 2004. Archived from the original on January 8, 2007.
- Adam Steltzner at the Internet Movie Database
- Wall, Mike (December 19, 2012). "Mars Rover Landing Guru Makes 'Best of 2012' List". Space.com. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- "Anthony Beavers: 2012 World Technology Award in Ethics". International Society for Ethics and Information Technology. July 18, 2014. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- Ouellette, Jennifer (December 2013). "The Brilliance Behind the Plan to Land Curiosity on Mars". Smithsonian. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
- "2013 National Space Society Awards". National Space Society. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- Hyland, Duane (August 11, 2014). "Dr. Adam Steltzner Awarded Inaugural Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship". American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- "National Space Club Announces 2014 Goddard Memorial Dinner Award Recipients" (Press release). National Space Club. February 4, 2014. Retrieved August 12, 2014 – via SpaceRef.com.
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