From high school dropout to landing Curiosity on Mars: Adam Steltzner on how ‘Curiosity Changed My Life’

NASA called it “seven minutes of terror.” In August 2012, the world watched to see if the Mars Curiosity rover, a one-ton robot hurtling toward the red planet at 13,200 mph, would gently land on the surface or explode on contact.The planned landing allowed for zero margin of error.

Adam Steltzner, PhD, the engineer in charge of the highly delicate landing feat, will tell how “Curiosity Changed My Life” for the Assembly Series. His presentation will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, in Graham Chapel on Washington University in St. Louis’ Danforth Campus; it is free and open to the public.

As we now know, Steltzner’s team executed a perfect landing, made all the more dazzling considering their leader flunked geometry and dropped out of high school to join a rock band. His father told him he would never amount to more than aditch digger.

One night, however, he noticed that the Orion constellation was in a different place than earlier that evening. Steltzner decided he wanted to know all he could about space, so he earned his GED, followed by a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a PhD in engineering physics.

WUSTL has its own cadre of experts when it comes to exploring Mars. As deputy principal investigator of the dual-rover Mars missions, planetary scientist Ray Arvidson, PhD, has had the opportunity to give his students hands-on training. That in turn has led to a sizable alumni group currently employed by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Read more about WUSTL’s Mars rover connection.

Hear interviews with Steltzner here and here.

For more information on Assembly Seriesprograms, visit the Assembly Series website or call 314-935-4620.