At 20, Adam Stelzner was an aspiring rock star; on his way home from a gig, he noticed that the constellation of Orion had shifted from where it was hours before. That’s all it took to spark his desire to know everything about the laws that govern the universe. This led him to return to school and earn a PhD; by the age of 35, he was an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories. He’s now Team Leader and Chief Engineer EDL, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory CuriosityRover Project. And he’s been honored with the Smithsonian’s American Ingenuity Award in technology to GQ magazine’s Spaceman of the Year.
On Monday morning at this year’s American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo, Stelzner kicks off the meeting with his talk, “The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership and High Stakes Innovation.”
Stelzner and his team had to design, build, and fly the Curiosity Rover systems that, at 50 miles above Mars, slowed the one ton rover from a speed of nearly 15,000 miles per hour and deliver it safely to the planet’s surface. The challenges he and the team faced and the lessons learned from those struggles can help IH/OH professionals understand how to better lead their own high-performing teams, manage innovation, and drive towards excellence.
Stelzner’s journey is captured in his book, The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership and High Stakes Innovation.
Stelzner’s career path is also instructive for IH’s and EHS pros. Curiosity is the key. There is the transformation from wanna-a-be rock star at 21 to rocket scientist at 30, a transition started when he followed his curiosity. In his professional life, he was responsible for landing the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, an act that demanded he use his curiosity. Curiosity and exploration are powerful disruptors of human existence – and in career trajectories. Steltzner explores these topics and asserts that when we follow our own curiosity and explore what we might be, we’re better for it.