Washington — The world was watching the control room August 6 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the question on everybody’s mind was, “Will the craft land safely on Mars?”
But apparently many were also asking, “Who’s that dude with the Mohawk-style haircut at the console?”
That dude was Bobak Ferdowsi, flight director for the Mars Curiosity rover, who was monitoring all systems’ performance at the critical stage when the spacecraft entered the atmosphere, decelerated and landed safely on the planet. While doing his job, Ferdowsi become an Internet sensation.
His dark, thick hair is cut into a "mohawk" style — a crest of hair on the top, down the back, and shaved close on the sides. He completed the look with some hair cut to create star shapes on the side and a streak dyed red along the top.
This is not a look often seen on the heads of government workers — which he is, as an employee at JPL — and it is unusual among scientists, who are burdened with a stereotype of having conservative haircuts, closed collars and a very low “cool quotient.”
Going out for a wild haircut has become a tradition for Ferdowsi at critical events in JPL’s planetary exploration programs. His co-workers vote on the style each time.
Even President Obama, when he called the JPL team August 13 to thank them for doing a great job, mentioned that Mohawk Guy had been one of the sensations of the night.
"You know, I thought about getting a mohawk myself, but my team keeps on discouraging me,” Obama said in the call. “Now that he's [Ferdowsi] received marriage proposals and thousands of new Twitter followers, I think I'm now going to go back to my team and see if it makes sense."
And Ferdowsi had a comeback on Twitter:
“So incredible to have the POTUS [President of the United States] call work today & thank the team! Still can't believe @BarackObama called me mohawk guy!”
Ferdowsi had about 200 followers on Twitter before the Mars landing and now has more than 51,000 followers.
“If my mohawk gets a few more people excited about science and this mission, that’s awesome, that’s what it’s all about,” he said in a YouTube interview. He hopes it might make some kids take a fresh look at studies in science and engineering.
“[Science] is a lot of fun; you don’t have to look like the guys in the skinny ties and the white shirts,” Ferdowsi said.