UC Davis Today: Two from UC Davis in key roles for Mars rover mission

Artist's concept of rover on Mars

Rover animation

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Videography courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
(11 min 20 sec)

Two from UC Davis in key roles for Mars rover mission

UC Davis alumnus Adam Steltzner celebrated after the Mars rover Curiosity landed safely using the landing system his team designed, while geology professor Dawn Sumner is looking forward to discoveries as the scientific phase of the mission begins. 

Steltzner, who earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from UC Davis in 1990, led design and development of the Entry, Descent and Landing system for the rover. 

Sumner, a co-investigator for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory team, will serve as a long-term planner from the mission’s base at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. One of her first tasks will likely be to direct Curiosity, via computer, to shoot some of the first true color photographs ever taken of Mars. She will also coordinate the first scientific interpretations of what is seen when the rover lands and help to make daily decisions about the research vehicle’s activities.

Sumner will share this role with an international team of scientists during the first three months of Curiosity’s two-year mission. After this, she will assist the mission from UC Davis.

“One of the important parts of this mission for me is to inspire students to ask big, important questions and participate in human endeavors, like exploration of other planets,” Sumner said. 

Sumner isn’t the only inspirational faculty member urging students to shoot for the stars. UC Davis has many leading thinkers in fields ranging from geology to cosmology and physics to mechanical and aerospace engineering. Working collaboratively, they look to the great beyond for answers to questions on Earth.

One incoming faculty member is former astronaut Steve Robinson, a UC Davis alumnus and veteran of four space shuttle missions, who is returning to campus this fall as a professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Watch a video on Sumner’s role in planning the Mars rover landing. And keep up with the action by reading Sumner's Mars blog and following her on Twitter @sumnerd.

This image taken by NASA's Curiosity shows what lies ahead for the rover: its main science target, Mount Sharp. The rover's shadow can be seen in the foreground, and the dark bands beyond are dunes. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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