At a little past midnight this morning on the West Coast, it dawned on Bobak Ferdowsi that “there were Internet things going on.”
By then, of course, Ferdowsi, a flight director on the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity mission had become a Twitter celebrity: He was the man in the Mars Curiosity control room with a maroon-tinted mohawk, a great body and a killer smile.
A 2003 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ferdowsi is a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and he’s had quite a 24 hours, playing a supporting role in the successful landing of the Martian craft while enjoying a launch of his own.
“It’s been good so far,” he said.
Twitter would appear to agree. Ferdowsi, @tweetsoutloud, had less than 200 followers before the late Sunday night landing of the Mars Curiosity rover — and stands at more than 21,000 followers this afternoon.
“I did not, of course, have any idea of what was going to happen. I’ve been having fun with my hair for each of our major events, a different color hair for launch, shaved things in the side of my head … little did I realize what was going to happen last night.”
Saying he’d been focused on the fact that the rover successfully landed on Mars, he said “I haven’t sort of let the whole thing sink in yet. I’m still working on the, ‘Holy cow, we made it to Mars.’”
He laughs: “Until yesterday, my Twitter was pretty much a couple family members, sometimes a co-worker.”
“I was getting some texts or whatever, and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I had a lot of friends who weren’t in the room that I’d worked on the project with and other people who work here at the lab, and I thought I’d share with them some of the exciting news going on,’” he said. “I didn’t really notice it yesterday until a couple hours after we had landed, and I had a chance to look at all the text messages, and I realized there were Internet things going on.”
He said he loves being part of the team at NASA.
“Yesterday, my emotions and my reactions were just — because of all of the hard work I put into it personally, but also it’s that here I am sharing this incredible moment with all of these people that have done the same thing. A lot of them, these are people I spend my time with outside of work. These are my friends. So, that’s really the incredible thing for me,” he said.
Asked what’s coming up next, Ferdowsi went full science geek: “People should be excited about the science of this mission. We’ve got instruments on this rover … that will allow us to discover things about Mars, about the potential for life to exist on Mars, that we’ve never been able to.
“So, I’m hoping people follow along for at least a few months when we get all of this crazy science, and I think people will be shocked.”
It’s not all great news for all of Ferdowsi’s new fans — at least not the new admirers.
“I am dating somebody. She’s awesome,” he said. “She’s put up with me working a lot of long hours on this project, and I am definitely looking forward to things being calmed down a little bit so I can actually hang out with her.”
And what does she think of the man she’s dating becoming NASA’s Internet pin-up man?
“We laughed a little about it last night. But, I barely had a chance to see her since we landed. I’m sure we’ll talk about it soon. Hopefully she’s cool with it.”
If not, I believe there’s a line of followers who would be. Just a guess.