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To MARS with MER - RESEARCH/ers

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

P2K: The old NASA was sort of full of "fly boy," "get a Corvette," have a good time "right stuff." Is that old romantic aspect of space flight lost with robotic missions?

Adam Steltzner: Well, certainly not for me, and I don't think for any of the other folks involved on the team. The romance is incredible. And the work-hard, relax-hard is still something that happens. The development team certainly spent a lot of time, a lot of Thursday nights out. I would not try to compare the effort to the life and death struggle of someone in combat. But sometimes it feels a bit like combat, like I imagine combat would feel. You've got challenges that you don't know whether you can actually overcome, and you've got to live with that stress day in and day out, and you've got to work hard. And there are successes; you overcome them. That's the incredible reward. You know, it's rough. It's rough

P2K: It seems to me that the physics of all the different bits of EDL process that you've been involved with are pretty different. Shoving "soft goods" (the airbags) down on sharp rocks to me seems different than having parachutes floating in thin air. And then you've got explosives, and you've got this and you've got that. I mean, aren't you-

Adam Steltzner: Yeah, that's totally, that is, that's so...

That's so cool it's not even funny. That is it, man, that is what absolutely rocks about EDL, is that it is hardcore. It has got it all. I mean, you've got fluid structure interaction, you've got computational fluid dynamics, you've got aerothermal... you know, the entry event has got the physics of plasma disassociation high-energy flows. You've got rocket performance. You've got multibody dynamics. You've got this airbag event, which is another fluid structure interaction. You've got all sorts of different kinds of physics. It really stretches your noggin. It really requires that you be, I think it requires that you be willing to and capable of thinking about lots of different kinds of physical interactions simultaneously. And that, for me, is a huge turn-on, I think. ...I mean, it doesn't get any cooler than that. It really doesn't get any cooler than that. I mean, I am dead serious, there is no way it can ever get any cooler than EDL because there is, to my eyeballs, no other instance [cell phone rings], there are very few other phases of a space flight mission that involve so many different flavors of physics. None that actually come to mind right now.

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