The pilot who died when his small plane crashed in Los Angeles Saturday was a NASA and Jet Propulsion Labs researcher who assisted in the Mars Curiosity Rover expedition.
Alberto Behar's plane nosedived soon after taking off from Van Nuys Airport, crashing into a street in the Lake Balboa neighborhood at around 1:15 p.m. and killing him instantly, authorities said.
A JPL spokeswoman confirmed that Behar, a who worked at the Pasadena-based lab for 23 years, died in the crash. He was a scientist on two Mars research missions, including the Curiosity rover collecting data about conditions on the Red Planet.
"His career was dedicated to better understanding Earth and the other planets," said JPL Science Division manager Michael Watkins in a statement. "On behalf of everyone at JPL, I wish to extend our condolences to his family and friends."
The Scottsdale, Ariz., resident, who was also an Arizona State University professor of robotics, spent years at NASA and JPL reseaching how robots and scientific equipment work in harsh locales like Greenland and in harsh environments, like volcanoes and underwater, according to his university biography.
Behar designed a camera that captured on camera a tiny shrimp-like creature swimming deep beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, a profoundly unexpected find so far from the open ocean, according to NASA press release from 2010.
The discovery prompted scientists to wonder "if life-forms as complex as these can survive deep within sub-glacial waters could they survive in other unusual and unfriendly environments in space?" the release said.
“From his submarines that peeked under Antarctica to his boats that raced Greenland's rivers, Alberto's work enabled measurements of things we'd never known," NASA scientist Thomas Wagner said in a statement.
"His creativity knew few bounds. He is, and will forever be, sorely missed.”
Behar's plane, a single-engine, fixed-wing Lancair 320, was listed in an FAA record as amateur-built and experimental. Lancair planes are pre-fabricated kits assembled by the people who buy them, according to the company's website.
Photo Credit: Courtesy NASA