Mars Curiosity’s ‘Mohawk Guy’ shows the world how cool techies can be

As if searching for signs of life on Mars wasn’t cool enough, NASA flight director Bobak Ferdowsi showed how cool techies can really be when his American flag Mohawk haircut went crazy viral the day Curiosity landed on Mars.

Now dubbed by millions as ‘Mohawk Guy,’ Ferdowsi attracted the attention of young people on Tumblr and Twitter to the sensational Mars mission while also making science and technology look like a lot of fun. He broke the outdated tech nerd image big time!

Overnight, Ferdowsi went from having 200 followers on his Twitter account to thousands and even President Barak Obama joked he thought about getting a Mohawk but his team advised against it. In a congratulatory phone call to the NASA team at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in California, Obama acknowledged Mohawk Guy and added, "It does sound like NASA has come a long way from the white shirt, black dark-rimmed glasses and the pocket protectors. You guys are a little cooler than you used to be."

The 32-year-old Ferdowsi is treating all the online attention – and multiple marriage proposals – as good fun. But in all his media interviews, he can hardly control his excitement when talking about Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars and the revolutionary scientific work to be done on the red-planet’s surface over the next two years.

As the flight director of the $2.5 billion mission to find out whether life ever existed on Mars, or could exist in the future, Ferdowsi is a hard-core scientist through and through even though he doesn’t talk like one. Instead of giving technical jargon in interviews, he says things like he had a “gut-wrenching feeling” the whole time Curiosity was descending toward Mars while feeling “giddy” it was actually happening.

And he has ever right to feel giddy. Ferdowsi has worked on the Mars mission for nine years along with 3,500 other people. Getting the robotic Curiosity - which is about the size of a small SUV – safely to the surface is just the start of the real fun for scientists around the world – including many in Canada.

As the vehicle moves across a crater made by a giant meteor impact more than three billion years ago, it’ll be analyzing chemical elements in soil and rocks with the help of a small device called the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS). The APXS was developed by a team of scientists led by University of Guelph physicist Ralf Gellert with funding from the Canadian Space Agency. Other scientists at the University of New Brunswick, University of Western Ontario, Brock University and other Canadian institutions are part of the international team that will interpret data and chart the path for Curiosity on Mars.

Read the CareerMash blog about Canada’s participation in the Curiosity mission.

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