This week geek news has been totally dominated by the successful landing of the NASA rover Curiosity on Mars after an epic 8 and a half month journey! As we watched the NASA control room on tenterhooks as the rover made its complex landing, someone in the control room stood out from the rest and was soon pounced upon by the internet’s meme-making-massive!
I’m talking about Bobak Ferdowsi, the NASA activity lead for the Mars mission and his amazing stars-and-stripes Mohawk that made him instantly popular.
Not long after Curiosity’s successful landing, Ferdowsi and his super-cool haircut had spawned dozens of meme photos and had the Tumblr, ‘NASA Needs More Mohawks’ created in his honor. One of the first ones to hit the net was the photo with the tagline “Becomes an internet sensation…Too busy landing a robot on Mars to notice.” His Twitter account has amassed more than 44,000 followers and he has also received several online marriage proposals and been the subject of loads of adoring fan art.
Wired caught up with Ferdowsi to find out how it felt to become an overnight sensation and just from reading his interview, it’s really easy to see why this dude has captured the hearts and minds of the internet.
Ferdowsi said: “I sort of thought this week was just going to be dealing with the emotions of landing…But to find out late Sunday, early Monday morning that all of the sudden people were really interested in me, that was totally surreal.”
When asked if he ever thought he would become the subject of an internet meme, Ferdowsi seemed totally surprised that he was the next big thing. He told Wired that the team he works with would often create meme’s for their current projects and enjoyed them as much as everyone else.
Asked if he had a favorite meme image or fan art, Ferdowsi replied that he loved a lot of the stuff that he has seen. One of his favorites was the tweet which said: “Will you marry me? If yes, land a rover on Mars.” Another one that Fedowsi particularly enjoyed actually came through when they were down-liking images from the orbiters.
One of the team said, “we’re getting a new picture, let me process it and put it on screen” and as it came through, it turned out to be a picture of Ferdowsi superimposed onto the movie poster for Brokeback Mountain, which instead says “Bobak Mountain.” Ferdowsi said that everyone who saw it was laughing solidly for 5 or 10 minutes!
When questioned about the unusual haircut that started it all, Ferdowsi admitted to changing his hair a lot, often with numbers or other indicators to signify particular parts of projects or missions. He said that the stars-and-stripes haircut was actually suggested by people that he works with. He also admitted that he might be willing to change his haircut if an internet poll was conducted with people voting for the style they want to see him sport! His good friend Katie Encabo, who works at the Factory Studio in Pasadena, is the one responsible for creating his interesting hairstyles.
Ferdowsi was also asked about what he thought about his Mohawk getting people intrigued in science and space exploration and he said he thought that it was because he didn’t fit the usual NASA employee stereotype and they thought, , “If a guy who looks like that can work at NASA, then I can too.” Ferdowsi mused that it was awesomely rewarding, if in any way his image helped to motivate young children and encouraged people to want to work at NASA.
Ferdowsi also told readers how excited he was to meet William Shatner because he loved Star Trek when he was young and said he is a massive Arthur C. Clarke fan. He also said that his job at NASA was partly due to Lego. As a child, he said he was constantly building stuff out of Lego, and much of that hands-on engineering is essential to his job at NASA.
He said that they even use Lego at NASA when they want to make a quick 3D model of something!