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Mars rover mission's 'Mohawk Guy' inspires Obama

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
August 15, 2012 -- Updated 1858 GMT (0258 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Barack Obama congratulates NASA scientists on Mars rover landing
  • The rover landed 1.5 miles from its target on August 6
  • The rover eventually will head to Mount Sharp
  • Obama jokes he's considering getting a mohawk after "Mohawk Guy"

(CNN) -- "Mohawk Guy," a Mars rover flight director, isn't just a social media sensation -- he made an impression on President Barack Obama, too.

"I, in the past, thought about getting a mohawk myself, but my team keeps on discouraging me," Obama told scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a phone call Monday broadcast on NASA TV.

"And now that he's received marriage proposals and thousands of new Twitter followers, I think that I'm going to go back to my team and see if it makes sense," he said to the sound of laughter from dozens of NASA employees.

Obama called NASA mission specialists to congratulate them on the successful landing of the rover Curiosity, which reached Mars one week ago. He praised them for their achievements in the phone call, which was both laudatory and lighthearted.

The Mars rover Curiosity does a test drill on a rock dubbed "Bonanza King" to see if it would be a good place to dig deeper and take a sample. But after the rock shifted, the test was stopped. The NASA rover has now spent two years on the red planet. Curiosity set off from Earth in November 2011 and landed nearly nine months later -- 99 million miles away. Click through to see more of its images. The Mars rover Curiosity does a test drill on a rock dubbed "Bonanza King" to see if it would be a good place to dig deeper and take a sample. But after the rock shifted, the test was stopped. The NASA rover has now spent two years on the red planet. Curiosity set off from Earth in November 2011 and landed nearly nine months later -- 99 million miles away. Click through to see more of its images.
Mars rover Curiosity
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Photos: Mars rover Curiosity Photos: Mars rover Curiosity
360-degree view of Mars
Is the Mars rover vain?
Meet the man behind the Mars photos
Water-ice clouds, polar ice and other geographic features can be seen in this full-disk image of Mars from 2011. NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover touched down on the planet on August 6, 2012. Take a look at stunning photographs of Mars over the years. Check out images from the Mars rover Curiosity. Water-ice clouds, polar ice and other geographic features can be seen in this full-disk image of Mars from 2011. NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover touched down on the planet on August 6, 2012. Take a look at stunning photographs of Mars over the years. Check out images from the Mars rover Curiosity.
Exploring Mars
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Photos: Exploring Mars Photos: Exploring Mars

"Mohawk Guy," whose real name is Bobak Ferdowsi, has become famous for his look during the rover landing last week. As the world waited for Curiosity to touch down, Ferdowsi sported a red-and-black mohawk; the sides of his head featured yellow dyed stars.

Decoding the workplace dress code

"It does sound like NASA has come a long way from the white-shirt, black dark-rimmed glasses and the pocket protectors," Obama told Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Charles Elachi and colleagues. "You guys are a little cooler than you used to be."

More seriously, Obama thanked the scientists for devoting their lives to the cause of exploration outside our planet.

"What you've accomplished embodies the American spirit," he said. "Our expectation is that Curiosity is going to be telling us things that we did not know before," he said, and that the rover will lay the groundwork for an even more "audacious undertaking," which would be "a human mission to the red planet."

What we've done on Mars, and what's next

Curiosity is about the size of a sport utility vehicle and weighs 2,000 pounds. The mission costs about $2.6 billion.

The rover, after traveling for more than eight months, safely landed on the surface of Mars before 2 a.m. E.T. on August 6. The landing process was dubbed "seven minutes of terror" and involved the world's largest supersonic parachute and a sky crane.

Despite the complicated landing mechanism, the rover landed about 1.5 miles from its target, which was still well within the range where scientists expected it to arrive.

"It's really mind-boggling what you've been able to accomplish," the president told the NASA mission specialists. "And being able to get that whole landing sequence to work the way you did is a testimony to your team."

5 reasons to be excited about Curiosity

The rover will head toward Mount Sharp, a 18,000-foot high mountain about 7.5 miles south of where it landed. Curiosity will climb at least a small portion of this mountain, which is composed of layers of rock that have built up over time. Using its science tools, the rover will test for organic molecules, which would indicate the planet could have once hosted life.

Meet a rover driver: His other car is on Mars

Curiosity is supposed to last for two years on the red planet, but previous missions suggest that it could go longer. NASA had planned for twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity to last only 90 days, but Spirit persevered from 2004 to 2010, and Opportunity is still chugging along.

Obama may be busy with the upcoming election, but he said he'd still like to know immediately whether Curiosity finds life -- even microorganisms -- on Mars.

"If in fact you do make contact with Martians, please let me know right away," he said, receiving more laughter. He added, "I've got a lot of other things on my plate, but I suspect that that will go to the top of the list."

CNN's John D. Sutter contributed to this report.

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