Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)
August 12, 2012

“Mohawk Man” Becomes Internet Sensation Following Curiosity Landing

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity landing and the early images captured by the NASA rover have garnered a lot of attention over the past week, but they aren't the only ones gaining fame as a result of the mission.

In fact, one of the dozens of scientists awaiting the "seven minutes of terror" at NASA's mission control facility on Sunday night was a 32-year-old flight engineer and Oakland, California native known as Bobak Ferdowski.

If Ferdowski's name seems unfamiliar, perhaps you know him better as "Mohawk Guy," the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate with an eye-catching "his stars-and-stripes punk-rock hairdo" and what Reuters reporter Piya Sinha-Roy refers to as the "hunky good looks" that has made him "an overnight Internet sensation."

Ferdowski, as it turns out, "has worn eccentric hairstyles for big missions and projects throughout his nine-year tenure at NASA, as a kind of good-luck tradition," Sinha-Roy said. His presence at mission control resulted in more than 44,000 new Twitter followers for the young man, a number of marriage proposals and "memes" featuring his image going viral. He also "helped generate online buzz for Curiosity," according to Reuters.

"I didn't realize that our landing would be such a heavily watched thing," Ferdowski, who was involved with reworking Curiosity's hardware and power modules in preparation for entry, descent, and landing procedures, told Sinha-Roy on Friday. "I'm so glad people were as excited to watch that landing as I was. But to wake up the next morning and find tons of people have a new-found interest in me, or think that I'm the new face of NASA, is crazy."

He also has become a bit of an idol for aspiring scientists, engineers, and astronomy professionals.

"It's turning engineers into rock stars," Courtney O'Connor, social media specialist at NASA's California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), told Reuters. "If you have elementary school kids who now want to go into science to learn about this, that's amazing."

When asked about that possibility by Amina Khan of the Los Angeles Times, "Mohawk Man" said that inspiring kids to consider pursuing a career with the U.S. space agency would be "like a dream come true."

"I would love to be working here 10 years from now and some guy who was in high school or middle school at the time sees me and is like, 'I remember you, you´re one of the reasons I got into NASA.' Even if one kid is like that, I´d probably get a little emotional," Ferdowski added. "I think the stuff we do here so is so cool, and I´m OK with kind of being an example of 1) it takes all types and 2) you don´t have to look like anything -- you can be who you are. As long as you have a passion and a willingness to work hard, you can work here."