While the world watched the landing of the Curiosity Mars Rover this week, NASA got an unexpected boost thanks to a unique team tradition involving flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, aka Mohawk Guy. As eager eyes scanned the live footage of the control room, the Internet let out a collective gasp at Bobak’s Mohawk (how did that not become the meme?) Anyway, Ferdowsi could be more accurately called the “Hairdo Guy” since this latest red-streaked, star-studded Mohawk was just one in a long string of custom hairstyles Ferdowsi produces for different missions. Cool right?
Half the world, many of them on social media, thought so too. And it was all because of video. All of a sudden, the cool rebel from high school and the head of the math club were all wrapped up in one guy. People who previously thought NASA and science-related careers were inaccessible or uncool saw this week that you don’t have to look like a nerd to be a rocket scientist. But this internet celeb of the moment goes beyond memes; he’s already being hailed as an employment branding hero. According to the Washington Post, “Ferdowsi’s popularity has even greater, more innovation-relevant significance.”
NASA and others who hope to recruit for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields have been searching for ways to make science cool, and Mohawk Guy did just that. Not just with his fun hairstyle but with his willingness to jump on social media and answer questions about his background education and his love for Legos. Nabbing the job right out of graduation, Ferdowsi started planning missions right away. Giving young folks across the globe the nudge they need to step into STEM? Very admirable. During this interview, Ferdowsi…okay Mohawk Guy…drops the hint that pretty much all his cohorts at NASA are “young and cool”. Who knew?
- Someone in the control room has a thing “for 80s hair bands”.
- He went to Space Camp.
- A bunch of team members voted on Bobak’s hairstyle for the evening.
- They play Beatles in the morning to wake up for work.
- Bobak labels NASA a “very diverse place to work”.
- Mohawk Guy wants to use his science stardom to help “even a couple kids to get into science or engineering” and plans to do outreach into classrooms “once he gets used to working on Mars”.
Internet video fame has also helped Ferdowsi who might be looking for a new job in a couple of months now that the Curiosity flight mission is done. With federal budget sequestration looming in January and threatening significant cuts to spending on space programs including Mars exploration, many space scientists are wondering how they will find jobs outside their field. Although most space scientists have such specialized expertise that they lack relevant experience in other industries, we can be sure that Ferdowsi would not have trouble finding new companies that would be happy to hire him if he leaves NASA. However, Ferdowsi was brilliant as a spokesperson for NASA, describing work conditions, his colleagues and even handling controversial questions regarding funding with ease. NASA isn’t likely to let this bright and fun ambassador go anytime soon especially when he’s done more to interest the mainstream in STEM with one great hair day than a whole lot of endowments and grants.
“I hope people get into STEM no matter what they look like,” said Mohawk Guy.
Not only has Ferdowsi attracted interest in his mission in the Curiosity video stream, but prospective employers have been able to get to know him better through his widely publicized Twitter feed (@tweetsoutloud) and numerous video interview appearances in media. Not only does he show tremendous grace under pressure, but he’s been able to tell the world his career path, show off those skills (LIVE!), dip his toe into leadership development and articulate how passionate he is about his work. Talk about networking, it’s actually (ahem) out of this world!