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Adam Steltzner
EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing) Lead Mechanical Engineer
Mars Exploration Rovers mission
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Adam is responsible for the operation of the airbags, and all associated sub-systems which will protect the spacecraft during the last 6 minutes of flight. He and his team faced serious challenges during the abbreviated testing schedule, and as you can read below, he personally traveled as many miles as would have taken him round the Earth 10 times in order to carefully monitor the results! He's a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where he was an award-winning teaching fellow, and also played in a rocke band.

P2K: What have you learned on the job here at JPL that they didn't tell you at engineering school and that you couldn't tell your students... what do you need to know to be a successful in this business?

Adam Steltzner: That's a good question. I would say... "expect to be surprised." That is, when you are in an academic environment, when you are teaching, or a student yourself, you tend to think of the world as being very analyzable, that you can take the world and break it into pieces, each of which is understandable, and then collect those pieces together for a total understanding. And largely that's true, but the historic process, as you go through that process in reality, in the field, in the nitty-gritty here, the number of surprises you encounter is surprising itself!

And I think that the one thing that I didn't learn in engineering school that I've certainly learned through this process is never underestimate the opportunities you will have to be surprised, and expect - as Amelia Earhart said - "expect the unexpected." And I think that would be what this has taught me.

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