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To MARS with MER - RESEARCH/ers
EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing) Lead Mechanical Engineer Mars Exploration Rovers mission
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
P2K: How on earth do you consider yourself qualified to go from fluid dynamics to all the way across the field? What prepared you for this mind-blowing, "noggin'-expanding" experience?
Adam Steltzner: Earlier you mentioned a kind of slightly "space cowboy" attitude of the early years of space exploration. I would have to honestly say that the only thing that allows me to feel qualified to take the role that I've taken on the Mars Exploration Rovers mission is a sense of, wrong or right, intellectual invulnerability, that I have as a personality bug or feature, depending on how you look at it. My training has been all over the map. I did mechanical design as an undergraduate. My master's, and I started a Ph.D. at CalTech in geotectonic plate interaction, and actually had a lot of fluid mechanics in that training. So solid mechanics was really my master's work. And then my Ph.D. was in structural dynamics and system identification. So I've had a very wide ranging set of degrees, and my interests in general have always been fairly broad. So I was one of those guys who took a lot of courses. I figured I had never met anybody who said they wished they'd ended school faster or taken less, learned less stuff, so I took my time and learned a lot of stuff. And then I'm kind of willing to put myself out there and say, I'm going to go for this, without necessarily knowing that I've done it before.
P2K: Somebody said that you guys are playing on the "dream team" in terms of the quality of people you've got around on this gig. Does it feel like you're playing on the dream team?
Adam Steltzner: It is truly fantastic to work with these people, but we're also all working right at the edge of our capacity, so we're all very intimately familiar with our own and each other's intellectual limits. And that, in itself, is exciting, to be working with a great set of people, but be working at a level where we're all right there, giving all that we can. It's not like a lot of us have got a lot sitting in our back pocket in reserve, waiting to solve some extra problem that comes about. I mean, we're all putting it out on the table and kind of using all that we have inside of our noggins. So it's hard to know it when you're in the middle of it because you're consumed by the problems that you're solving. But there is definitely, I work with an absolutely fantastic group of people. Truly, truly great set of folks.