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Talk: Mars Curiosity lead engineer returns to UC Davis

May 14, 2013

Man demonstrating Mars rover on strings lowering to ground, as another man in background looks on

Adam Steltzner demonstrates how a spacecraft lands the Curiosity rover on Mars. (NASA/Bill Ingalls photo)

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 UC Davis, Steltzner led the innovative Entry, Descent and Landing team that guided Curiosity to its successful touchdown inside Mars' massive Gale Crater on Aug. 5.

Steltzner and his team — at one point, almost 2,000 people — devised the rocket-powered "sky crane," which 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 acclaim that has followed his work on Curiosity, Steltzner almost didn't find his scientific muse: After a lackluster high school career, he wanted only to play bass and drums in various New Wave bands.

But one night in 1984, entranced by the constellation Orion while returning home from a gig, he embraced higher education with fresh enthusiasm. He earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at UC Davis 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 the Galileo and Cassini space probes, Mars Pathfinder and the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

For additional information, call (530) 754-9666 or visit http://engineering.ucdavis.edu.

About UC Davis

For more than 100 years, UC Davis has been one place where people are bettering humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the state capital, UC Davis has more than 33,000 students, over 2,500 faculty and more than 21,000 staff, an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges — Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science. It also houses six professional schools — Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

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