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Polsky Series - Adam Steltzner

02/27/14

Polsky Series - Adam Steltzner

NASA engineer who led rover landing on Mars to speak at JCCC 

Adam Steltzner

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – Adam Steltzner grew up in a dysfunctional family in the San Francisco Bay area.

He struggled at school. As he went through his teens, he began playing in a band, hoping to build a career in music. One night, after a gig, he looked at the sky and noticed that a constellation of stars had moved from where he had seen it earlier that evening.

That got him thinking. Why did that constellation move?

His curiosity eventually propelled him to study at a community college and then at a four-year university where he earned a bachelor's, a master's and a PhD.

Now he speaks to students and others about the value of looking into whatever might intrigue you – whatever sparks your curiosity.

"It's work worth doing," Steltzner likes to say.

People listen because Steltzner's curiosity about the night sky led him to where he is today – a lead engineer and rocket scientist who successfully led a rover landing on Mars in 2012. His team at NASA's Mars Science Laboratory figured out how to slow down the rover named Curiosity from a speed of 13,000 miles per hour to a dead stop on Mars in just seven minutes.

Steltzner will speak on "How Curiosity Changed My Life" as part of the college's Polsky Practical Enrichment Series. The event, open to the public, will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 27, at the Carlsen Center's Yardley Hall. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and refreshments will be available in the lobby. The event is free but your reservation would be appreciated. You may email the Polsky Series.

During the presentation, Steltzner will talk about the challenges and setbacks his team experienced during the 10 years they spent together designing, building, testing and tweaking the Sky Crane, the innovative part of the landing gear that made the mission possible. He'll also talk about how much he valued breakthrough thinking from his team.

Steltzner has been in charge of all of the mechanical engineering elements of entry, descent and landing for the Mars Exploration Rovers. In 2004, he was among the scientists and engineers featured on the NOVA episode MARS Dead or Alive, which chronicled the process that ultimately delivered the rovers Spirit and Opportunity to Mars.

Also during the talk, Steltzner also will share his observations about the power of human curiosity and how it can change the world. He believes that audacious goals, unbridled thinking and breakthrough innovations can make the seemingly impossible possible. Steltzner is working on a book that will be titled The Right Kind of Crazy: The Science of Executing Transformative Ideas.

The Polsky Series is underwritten by the Norman and Elaine Polsky Family Supporting Foundation within the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation in partnership with Johnson County Community College. It includes topics that generally are not offered elsewhere. For more information, visit jccc.edu/polskyseries.

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