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2013 Alumni Hall of Fame Gala

The HCC Foundation held its 5th Annual Alumni Hall of Fame Gala on Saturday, November 16, 2013.

The guest speaker for the evening was Adam Steltzner, Lead Landing Engineer of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Project

Adam SteltznerAs chief engineer and development manager for the Mars Science Laboratory focused on entry descent and landing phase, Adam Steltzner’s job was to ensure that the intricately designed NASA Mars rover vehicle, Curiosity, landed safely.
Steltzner was in charge of all the mechanical engineering elements of entry, descent and landing for the Mars Exploration Rovers. In 2004, he was among the scientists and engineers featured on the NOVA episode “MARS Dead or Alive,” which chronicled the process that ultimately delivered the rovers Spirit and Opportunity to Mars.
(View the episode at

According to Steltzner, his educational history was “a little rocky”, as he says he had a “lack of focus in high school”. After finding inspiration at The College of Marin, a Community College located in the San Francisco Bay Area, his perspective on learning drastically changed. Steltzner remembers his community college days “being quite awesome”, as he felt it was here that he was able to give in to the curiosity that had always been inside of him. He took classes from professors who were passionate about what they taught. The enthusiasm he saw in his educators influenced him to want to learn more - so much so that he started to consider a career as a community college professor. It was his time at College of Marin that propelled him forward to pursue higher education and helped to get him to where he is today.

Steltzner, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Davis and a master’s degree from the California Institute of Technology, says today’s engineers must think critically to extend their skills and influence outside their area of specific expertise.

Now, he and his team design, build, and fly the systems that, at 50 miles above Mars, will slow the new rover from a speed of nearly 15,000 miles per hour and deliver it safely to the planet’s surface. “The technical job of designing and developing these complex engineering systems is challenging and very rewarding to me,” says Steltzner. “There are very few days when I don’t have a moment or two to think as hard as I possibly can. I like that.”