Adam Steltzner to Introduce Program with Exciting Keynote

November 19, 2019

Adam Steltzner of NASA will be kicking off this year’s program with an exciting keynote lecture Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. in Ballroom A–B.

Steltzner, an award-winning rocket scientist, led the team of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineers who successfully developed the “sky crane” landing system that placed the Mars rover Curiosity on the Martian surface in 2012. His keynote will delve into the engineering and innovation that went into landing Curiosity, as well as the lessons Steltzner learned about problem-solving and teamwork—lessons that conference attendees can apply to their own work.

“A lot of the truths I’ve learned about teamwork and about accomplishing anything as an organization are true across the board,” Steltzner said.

Steltzner’s career has certainly been unique, going from an aspiring rock star to a Ph.D. rocket scientist. His current role is chief engineer for the “Mars 2020” project at JPL, which has the goal of gathering core samples from Mars.

While Steltzner’s career may be unique, conference attendees will benefit from the lessons he has learned from these interesting experiences—particularly the importance of teamwork and the ways a group of people can work together to solve a problem.

“I’ve spoken to a large range of audiences and found resonance in every imaginable industry,” Steltzner said. “I think [conference attendees will] be able to connect my experiences to a lot of experiences, because they’re fundamentally human.”

Steltzner will be available to meet attendees and sign copies of his book from 10:00 to 10:30 a.m. (after the special presentation from Colleen McClanahan of the FBI immediately following his keynote). This meet-and-greet will be held at ASNT’s booth right outside of the main entrance to the Paradise Event Center. Steltzner’s book, The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership and High-Stakes Innovation, will be available for purchase through the onsite ASNT Store. The book, written with William Patrick, is a first-person account of the incredible story of landing Curiosity, bringing together Steltzner’s unique background, the challenges his team faced, and the lessons about decision-making, innovation, and teamwork that he learned from the experience.

According to Steltzner, he didn’t know what this book would become when he first started it. He was asked to write it after the success of the Curiosity landing, and as he notes, he has always found it helpful to “lead with yes” in his career, so he agreed. What he found in the process was that reflecting on his experience working on this mission led him to the many other insights that populate the book, and was grateful for the opportunity to “sit back and contemplate on what had just happened.”

“There were great opportunities for me to take stock of the experience […] and look at the way that experience was transferable to other things,” Steltzner said. “The inspiration [to write the book] was random […] but the opportunity was a gift for me.”

Keynote speaker Adam Steltzner will discuss the engineering and innovation that went into landing Curiosity on Mars, as well as lessons learned about problem-solving and teamwork. (Photo credit: Rachael Porter)