NASA’s ‘Mohawk Guy’: 5 reasons the internet is obsessed with him

UPDATE 8/7: We’re Skyping with Bobak Ferdowsi on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. EST. Submit your questions for him here.


Bobak Ferdowsi works inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. (Brian van der Brug/AP)

1. He changes his hair for every mission: For the mission to Mars, which has landed a sophisticated robot on the red planet to search for the building blocks of extraterrestrial life, Ferdowsi wore his hair in a red-streaked mohawk, with bleached stars on the side of his head. He told reporters that he changes his hair for every mission (and his newfound fans are eager for photos of those hairstyles, too!).

“The mohawk more or less stays there the whole time. But I thought I was kind of being subtle with this one. The stars were like a little tribute, but the team actually voted on this,” he said to a Seattle radio station.

2. He follows in a long tradition of sci-fi hair: Pop culture has given us a strong association between outlandish hair and sci-fi. Think about it: Princess Leia and Queen Amidala’s oversized coils. Spock and the Klingons’ pointed eyebrows. Those ridiculous dreadlocks on John Travolta’s character in “Battlefield Earth.” Ferdowsi’s hair looks as though it could be part of a costume for a young, handsome sci-fi hero — which, in the eyes of his fans, is his role (But sorry, single ladies and gents: He’s taken).

3. He’s challenging stereotypes of rocket scientists: Thanks in part to Ferdowsi, that image of a scientist as a dweeb may be short-lived. “Forget the thick black framed glasses, polyester ties and pocket protectors of the control room staff at the Apollo landings — this is the face of 21st century NASA!” wrote one blogger. The Atlantic chimed in: “We may associate the agency with rockets and robots and missions to places that are distinctly inhuman; Ferdowsi's mohawk, though, served as a reminder of the individual people — the quirky people — who make all that progress possible.”

4. He’s taking his newfound celebrity in stride: After images of Ferdowsi hit the wires, he gained more than 10,000 Twitter followers overnight. There’s Ferdowsi fan art and memes, all being collected on a Tumblr dedicated to his dreamy good looks (and, of course, his accomplishments). “I definitely didn't expect to wake up seeing it all over the Internet today,” he said of his photo to a Seattle radio station.

He acknowledged his new fans in a tweet after the landing:

Internet, you win this round. I’ll be back later, but thanks so much. Now going to celebrate with all my friends and team! #msl

— Bobak F. (@tweetsoutloud) August 6, 2012

5. You can’t help but cheer him on: Ferdowsi’s tweets during the mission make his excitement and fear palpable. Even for a scientist, he marvels at the images from space the way that anyone else would: “Mars looks so big — about the size of your open hand, arm extended! Crazy!” he tweeted. When his team accomplished its goal — a near-perfect landing — his Twitter followers couldn’t help but feel happiness and pride for him, since he’d brought them along on his journey through his tweets and photos.

Odd to think of life at these pivotal moments: This is my last shower/breakfast/(insert routine here) before landing. #MSL #NASA #JPL

— Bobak F. (@tweetsoutloud) August 5, 2012

Chat with Ferdowsi:


View Photo Gallery: A multibillion dollar gamble, a most scary landing and possibly learning whether Mars once could have supported life — briefly, that’s what’s at stake in NASA’s Mars Curiosity mission, which touched down to cheers early Monday. Mars is a difficult place to get to — only about a third of the 44 missions there have succeeded. Curiosity is the most ambitious and complex Mars mission ever conceived, writes Marc Kaufman, author of “First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth.’’

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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