Adam Steltzner, the NASA engineer who led the design and development of the “sky crane” system that allowed the Curiosity rover to make a soft landing from Mars, has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UC Davis.
Steltzner was a distinctive figure in NASA’s live stream from the control room, pacing around the rows of monitors. He’s also one of the narrators of the NASA video, “Seven Minutes of Terror,” about the landing process.
Even before Curiosity landed, Steltzner has got an unusual amount of press for a NASA engineer, including this profile from National Public Radio.
But Steltzner’s path to being a rocker rocket scientist was not straightforward. He struggled in school, got an F in high school geometry, played bass in some Bay Area bands and watched his friends go to college.
Then some idle stargazing on the way home from a gig spurred an interest in astronomy, he enrolled in a physics class at community college, and was hooked. He earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Davis in 1990, a master’s in Applied Mechanics from Caltech in 1991 and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 1999.
Steltzner joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech in 1991 and has worked on a number of other projects in addition to Curiosity, including the Galileo and Cassini missions to Jupiter and Saturn, respectively; and the three Mars missions, Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.