August 7, 2012

NASA’s Mohawk Rockin’ Space Nerd An Internet Sensation

John Neumann for - Your Universe Online

If you were one of the millions watching the livestream and television coverage of the successful Curiosity Mars landing, you may have noticed one strange looking gentleman standing out among the others, the one with a mohawk. A carefully coiffed, red and black dyed mohawk adorned with yellow stars along the sides of the wearer´s head, writes Damon Poeter for PC Mag.

The rockin´ rocket scientist turns out to be Bobak Ferdowsi, a NASA flight director, mission activity lead and a standout among otherwise business-first space nerds. Ferdowsi gets a new hairdo for each new mission, voted on by the rest of his Mars Lander team. Patriotic and cosmic, Ferdowsi has become an internet sensation.

To his credit, Ferdowsi has accepted his overnight memehood with grace and good-natured bemusement. “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 told a Seattle radio station.

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 saying, “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.”

We may associate the agency with rockets and robots and missions to places that are distinctly inhuman, Ferdowsi though, serves as a reminder of the individual people who make all that progress possible, Megan Garber, of The Atlantic reminds us.

So, as the Internet waited for news of the Curiosity rover´s fate, it cast its collective gaze on Ferdowsi -- not just as the bearer of an excellent hairstyle, but as a proxy for every person who made the rover´s tension-filled landing, ultimately, a success.

Ferdowsi taking his new-found celebrity in stride, even after 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.

Ferdowsi´s tweets during the mission make his excitement and fear palpable, reports Maura Judkis of the Washinton Post. 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.