Adam Steltzner

Chief Engineer: Mars 2020 Project, USC & NASA-JPL

Described as a cross between “Einstein and Elvis Costello,” Adam Steltzner is a leader heralded for making the impossible possible. And he wants to know “How great do YOU dare to become?”

An aspiring rock star turned Ph.D. rocket scientist, Adam Steltzner is praised as a cutting-edge innovator and a leader who literally brings out the very best in his teams. Adam serves has Chief Engineer of the current Mars 2020 Mission & Rover Perseverance that has ultimate objective of determining if life existed on Mars.

A mission ten years in the making, Mars 2020 was plunged into uncertainty at a crucial juncture by the global pandemic. Preparing a mission for Mars and not making any mistakes is immensely difficult under the best conditions. Suddenly, Steltzner and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team of 6,000+ was forced to operate remotely. The collaborative teams pressed on and remarkably maintained all of the original assembly and launch timetables. After a 6-month journey through space, history was made on February 18th when the Rover Perseverance spectacularly landed on the Martian surface, more than 200,000,000 miles from Earth.

Adam earlier led a breakthrough team that created the ingenious “sky crane” landing system for the Rover Curiosity that landed on Mars in 2012. The achievement prompted leadership guru Simon Sinek to state, “[Steltzner] shows us that doing what others think is impossible takes more than grit and courage. It takes the ability to inspire people . . . It takes leadership.” Steltzner was also honored with the “American Ingenuity” Award from Smithsonian Institute. Adam is the author of The Right Kind of Crazy: A True Story of Teamwork, Leadership and High Stakes Innovation, that was named a “best leadership book of the year” by the Washington Post. CEO READ picked the book as “Editor’s Choice” for its unique strategies and perspectives.


Thursday Afternoon Keynote Summit 2021

Join the afternoon keynotes, where we bring together the community to learn from thought leaders in Data + AI.  The NASA Mars Perseverance team joins us to share their stories in reaching the red planet. 


We’ll be interviewing Mooega Cooper, Lead Planetary Protection Engineer, and Adam Steltzner, “rock and roll” engineer at JPL on how important collaboration and innovation is to make the impossible possible. 


DJ Patil will join us to talk about data in healthcare and government.  DJ is America’s first Chief Data Scientist, appointed by Barack Obama to lead data-driven decision making across the government.  He also led COVID data initiatives for the State of  California and was CTO of the Biden/Harris transition team.  Prior to working on government and healthcare, he led data efforts at eBay and LinkedIn, where he coined the role “data scientist.” 


Manuela M Veloso will be speaking about the intersection of machine learning and finance.  Dr. Veloso is the Head of J.P. Morgan AI Research and a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), where she previously led the Machine Learning Department. In addition to her work on finance, she co-founded the RoboCup international robotics competition and led the CMU team to its fifth world championship.