The pilot of a small plane that crashed at a Los Angeles intersection was a NASA and Jet Propulsion Labs researcher who helped determine that there was once water on the surface of Mars, his colleagues said. Alberto Behar, 47, of Scottsdale, Arizona, died instantly when his single-engine plane nosedived shortly after takeoff Friday from Van Nuys Airport, the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner said Saturday. Behar worked for 23 years at JPL in Pasadena and also held a research professor post at Arizona State University. He worked on two Mars missions and spent years researching how robots work in harsh environments like volcanoes and underwater. As part of the NASA team exploring Mars with the Curiosity rover, Behar was responsible for a device that detected hydrogen on the planet's surface as the rover moved. 'His career was dedicated to better understanding Earth and the other planets,' JPL Science Division manager Michael Watkins in a statement. More via Daily Mail Online.