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  • Why Curiosity Matters - presented by Science@NASA

  • Adam Steltzner doesn't sound much like an ordinary engineer.

  • For instance, when we asked him if he would talk about Curiosity-

  • and explain why the Mars rover matters to ordinary people--

  • the former rock-n-roller responded

  • 'I'm totally down with that.'

  • He really is down with that.

  • Steltzner is the NASA engineer

  • who helped take the country's new Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars

  • with moves - and flair -

  • even Evel Knievel would envy.

  • Steltzner begins, 'I'm so thankful to Clara Ma for suggesting the name 'Curiosity.'

  • It embodies a fundamental attribute that defines us as humans.'

  • 'Why do we explore? It's our nature,' he says.

  • 'Human curiosity is why you and I can talk across the country by phone.

  • It's why I'm sitting 60 feet above the ground in a building made of alloys

  • and other high-tech composite materials.

  • We dominate this planet because we wonder what's around the next corner.'

  • When people ask Steltzner

  • 'Is the new rover worth 2 1/2 billion dollars?'

  • he has a compelling answer:

  • 'It's not 2 1/2 billion dollars we stuffed in a trunk and blew into space.

  • It's thousands of high tech jobs spread over 37 states.

  • It's honing and developing our skills in science, engineering, and math.

  • 'He notes that the U.S. has slipped to 14th in science education

  • and 18th in math -

  • in a world where we're competing for economic prosperity

  • with nations 1 through 13.

  • 'This mission is an investment in high tech jobs,

  • in inspiring the youth of our country,

  • in stepping up rung by rung toward 1st place.

  • It's the best stimulus you could imagine!'

  • Okay, curiosity matters--

  • but does it matter more than rock-n-roll?

  • Steltzner played guitar in a rock band for years,

  • so he has the chops to answer this question, too.

  • 'In some sense, exploration and music are both art forms,' he says.

  • 'They're both expressions of our humanity.

  • But exploration can surprise us more

  • - or at least differently -

  • than music can.

  • Music can surprise us only about what we find in ourselves.

  • Exploration surprises us with what we learn of ourselves and of the universe.'

  • Steltzner says music led him to exploration.

  • During high school he played in a rock band.

  • One night driving home from a gig

  • he noticed that the constellation Orion was in a different place than it had been before.

  • But why? 'I hadn't paid attention during high school classes at all.

  • So I didn't know.'

  • His curiosity made him decide to take an astronomy class.

  • First, though, astronomy had prerequisites

  • such as elementary algebra and conceptual physics.

  • He took them all.

  • 'I basically redid my high school education at the community college.'

  • The rest--which includes a bachelor's degree from UC Davis,

  • a master's degree from Caltech, a job at JPL,

  • and a daredevil landing on Mars--is history.

  • After the glory of the Curiosity landing fades,

  • what will this explorer do next?

  • 'Our solar system offers us grand challenges,' says Steltzner.

  • 'I'd like to see a Mars sample return.

  • I'd like to land on the surface of Europa

  • - the most likely place in the solar system for life.

  • And third, I'd like to float a boat on the methane lakes of Titan.'

  • 'The solar system is calling out to us,' he says.

  • 'The wind's at our back. It's time to explore!'

  • We're totally down with that.

  • For more science news that matters, visit

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ScienceCasts: Why Curiosity Matters

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    Why Why posted on 2013/03/27
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