SP01 - Opening Session

The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership and High Stakes Innovation

Monday, May 23 | 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM



Presenter: Adam Steltzner, Team Leader and Chief Engineer EDL, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Project

Adam SteltznerWith a rich and varied background, Adam Steltzner had many of the needed skills to lead the landing team for the Curiosity rover. He and his team had to design, build, and fly the 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. His team would struggle for almost a decade with design challenges and setbacks. How did he keep the team focused and on task? What makes a team gel and enables truly innovative thinking? How do team dynamics drive the process forward or inhibit it? And how can organizational culture create an environment for sustained performance? 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.

With a rock star’s presence, a storyteller’s gift, and a PhD in engineering physics, award-winning rocket scientist Adam Steltzner is simultaneously recognized as one of NASA’s most brilliant engineers and most unique individuals.

At 20, he 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 was all it took to spark his desire to know everything about the laws that govern the universe. This lead him to return to school and earn a PhD; by the age of 35, he was an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories.

curiosity rover - MarsFor 10 years, Steltzner led a team of engineers inventing, designing, testing and retesting the revolutionary “sky crane” landing system that successfully placed the Mars Rover Curiosity on the Martian surface in 2012. Five times heavier than its predecessors, Curiosity required an entirely new landing system for the perilous 7-minute phase when the one-ton rover—entering Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph—must stop fully on the surface. Since then, he’s been awarded honors ranging from the Smithsonian’s American Ingenuity Award in technology to GQ magazine’s Spaceman of the Year.

With a unique, exciting and inspiring narrative, Steltzner discusses the power of human curiosity, the importance of fostering a culture of collaborative innovation, and proves that with the “Right Kind of Crazy” we can significantly expand boundaries and achieve the impossible. His insight and journey are captured in his upcoming book, The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership and High Stakes Innovation, scheduled for release in 2016.