3. "If your solutions are crazy, you have to trust them because sometimes they may just be a great solution."
Because Curiosity was physically a lot larger than previous rovers launched by NASA -- around the size of a small car instead of a microwave -- it required a completely different process for landing it on the surface of Mars, Steltzner said. He said that the team debated airbags, legs, a pallet lander and other ways that had been tried on previous Mars rover landings but that wouldn't work for the larger rover. Steltzer said that the team sat down and ultimately settled on a direct placement method, called a "sky crane," where the rover would be lowered down gently from another vehicle until it was disconnected on the ground.
The method sounded crazy, Steltzer said, but he said it was backed up by sound engineering, which gave the team credibility for their new idea.
"It was such a tough sell that I developed a pithy saying, 'Great works and great folly may be indistinguishable at the outset,' " Steltzer said.
Being innovative, however, doesn't always mean doing everything perfectly right, Steltzer said -- just good enough, especially when working on a tight budget.
"Right is infinite time, infinite process, and we get paid for our capacity to do it just right enough. That’s actually how you save money, or at least that's the technique that we used. Don't do the things that you don't have to do ... that is an art for controlling costs and keeping scope down, is do just the things that you need to do," Steltzer said.
Anthony Pisano, president of Bellmore, N.Y.-based Urban Digital Solutions, said that innovation only needs to be as "right as you need it to be."
"I tend to get a little perfectionist," Pisano said. "It ends up costing us money."
4. "Your curiosity can take you in ways you never imagined."
Steltzer said that he found himself asking why NASA spent millions of dollars on putting rovers on Mars and searching for signs of life. It comes down to practicality, he said, comparing it to the development of the airplane. In the beginning, it involved a lot of crashes and outlandish ideas, but ultimately it resulted in a practical way for an assessable way to speed up traveling and connect people around the world.
"Exploration, we don’t start out exploring because it's known to be critical, but sometimes tremendous practicality comes from it," Steltzer said. "What's next for me, where will my curiosity lead me? The Curiosity did great and incredible things ... but where will your curiosity take you next?"
PUBLISHED MARCH 3, 2014