NASA reached a historical milestone on Monday, successfully landing the rover Curiosity on the face of Mars. Within hours, Curiosity was sending back pictures of the red planet, and making waves across the internet.
But the internet wasn’t just looking at pictures of Mars. Many had their eyes on NASA scientist Bobak Ferdowsi, the flight director of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Mission at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California. He’s also young, good-looking, and has a mohawk speckled with bleached blonde stars — not the typical look for a rocket scientist.
From the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, overnight sensation Bobak Ferdowsi talks about the implications of the Curiosity landing and his newfound fame.
"It's really flattering, and it's cool that in some way I represent or have let people see that NASA can have all sorts of faces and all sorts of looks," he says. In the days that followed the successful landing, Ferdowsi has been besieged by marriage proposals via Twitter. Fortunately, his girlfriend has taken such requests with good humor.
The mohawk is the latest in a series of haircuts for Ferdowsi, who changes it up every time a big mission comes up on his team's schedule. "This time, [the mohawk] was voted on by my team," he says. Other options included a reverse mohawk, and one write-in ballot requested that Federowsi shave in a reproduction of Gale Crater, Curiosity's landing site on Mars. "I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out."
Despite the waves of attention that the young scientist is generating across the Internet, he says that the momentous occasion belongs to the entire team at NASA. "I think people are just surprised that there's a guy like me on this project," he says. "We have all sorts of people on this project, [but] I'm just one of them, and it's amazing to me still that I get to be a part of something so cool."
The team has been performing checkups on Curiosity's equipment, testing the rover's cameras and communication devices. So far, everything has been functioning properly, and the rover will soon be ready to collect and analyze samples of the Martian landscape.
After a month of testing, Ferdowsi says, "We'll start driving in earnest." The rover's drivers will don 3D glasses to steer Curiosity around the Martian landscape in search of samples.
As the excitement over the landing dies down, the fresh new face of NASA will be coming in at around 10 a.m. every day — on Mars time — to oversee operations. Ferdowsi recalls how much time and effort went into the $2.6 billion operation, and says how much both the successful landing and the public reaction meant to the team members.
"It's a really exciting mission for all of us, and I think the whole public was excited and engaged to see that landing, and I hope it's just the first of many to come," he says.