An intrepid aerospace engineer shares career insights and success stories achieved through focused teamwork.
Astronautic developer Steltzner’s inspiring chronicle of innovation and creativity, written with veteran co-author Patrick, begins with his rather indirect path to a management career with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He details his younger years spent enjoying the free-spirited 1960s and ’70s in the San Francisco Bay Area. Contending with a heavy-drinking father obsessed with failure, the author also struggled greatly in the classroom and in psychotherapy sessions to “explore my combination of extreme risk taking and minimal consciousness in school,” as bone-breaking stunts took precedence over passing grades. Though he initially dismissed college to hold out for rock-band stardom, a chance sighting of the constellation Orion spurred Steltzner to enroll in a local community college, which led to Caltech, where he graduated in the top 20 percent of his class. He then earned a master’s degree and a job at the JPL. “I wasn’t Elvis Costello,” he divulges, “and I wasn’t ever going to be, but I did have a job at the lab responsible for the bulk of the U.S. unmanned space effort.” As the book delves deeper into the author’s work on various multilayered, scientifically dense projects at the JPL, the text tends to stray into “spacecraft ops-speak,” which will delight seasoned technophiles but confound neophytes. Steltzner vividly describes his crowning achievement, a project 10 years in the making: the atmospheric navigation and meticulous landing of a six-wheeled rover called Curiosity (“the size of a MINI Cooper”) onto the surface of Mars in 2012. The rover used a revolutionary hovering cable apparatus called Sky Crane, which the author helped build, troubleshoot, and deploy. Steltzner’s enthusiastic, passionately written memoir is an insider’s guide to engineering wizardry and a testament to the effectiveness of team-minded engagement, rational problem-solving, and the concept of “making ideas reality.”
A motivational journey for armchair astronauts and readers fascinated by the unlimited wingspan of human potential.