SN Blog | NASA’s Mohawk Guy on His Job, the Outer Planets and the State of the Union Address

The opposite day, I heard that Bobak Ferdowsi, “Mohawk Man” as he’s identified to a legion of on-line admirers, was going to be seated at first woman Michelle Obama’s field throughout President Barack Obama’s State of the Union deal with on Tuesday (Feb. 12).

For affirmation, I went the place I first heard concerning the Mars Science Laboratory flight director: Twitter.

After I didn’t hear again from Ferdowsi, I assumed I’d simply catch a glimpse of him on Tuesday’s prime-time broadcast. In spite of everything, along with his journey schedule, his sophisticated job, and all of the web fame that abruptly descended on him final August after the flagship Curiosity rover’s arrival on Mars (on the night time of Aug. 6, Ferdowsi and his famend mohawk have been clearly seen in webcast footage from Curiosity mission management on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory), it was attainable he simply didn’t have time to speak.

However because it turned out, he had a couple of minutes to spare earlier than the heading over to the Capitol for the State of the Union. table4 lastly reached Ferdowsi — who is predicated at JPL in Pasadena, Calif. — by telephone at NASA headquarters, simply hours earlier than the large speech. He stated his mohawk was ready.

Listed here are a number of nuggets from the interview:

Are you able to pronounce your identify for me?

It’s BOB-ak, like Bob.

When the White Home individuals requested you to return out for the State of the Union, did they are saying why you’d been invited?

 I believe it was only a common invitation. They’re actually excited concerning the work we’ve carried out within the final 12 months with Curiosity. That was the primary cause. However science, know-how, engineering and math training is a very huge a part of this administration, so I believe it’s additionally to do with that.

What else have you ever carried out to advertise the Mars Science Laboratory mission?

Effectively, I used to be within the inaugural parade, and have given talks at varied colleges, which I’m actually happy with. However clearly the highlights are the inauguration and the State of the Union.

I discover that you simply labored on the Cassini-Huygens flagship probe, which launched in 1997 and has been within the Saturn system since 2004. What was your function on that challenge?

I used to be a science planner on Cassini. Principally, Cassini has these challenges because it ages, by way of utilizing sure {hardware}. We wish to preserve that {hardware} working so long as attainable. So I used to be taking a look at optimization for the response wheels [which help orient the spacecraft].

You’re a Mars man. Some individuals within the scientific neighborhood are of the opinion that we’re doing loads of good work on Mars, and that there needs to be extra missions to the planets and our bodies past Mars and the asteroid belt. May you foresee a day the place you your self work on an outer photo voltaic system mission once more?

Completely! I unwittingly have change into Mars-related, however finally the explanation I work at NASA isn’t due to Mars particularly, however as a result of I’m so excited concerning the work we do. Mars Pathfinder was one of many causes I used to be impressed to work at NASA, however I’m additionally actually enthusiastic about persevering with to push the boundaries. And as an engineer, I completely would like to see us sort out a few of these challenges like Europa, or Titan, locations like that. I believe it’d be quite a lot of enjoyable to try this, and I believe NASA realizes there’s quite a lot of scientific advantage to that. And the extra analysis we do at these different planets that there are organics and water and different issues like that at these locations that make them actually fascinating to us. So I believe you’ll see extra of these missions arising. 

Do you’ve gotten a favourite outer planet? You’ll be able to embrace moons.

I’m a giant Europa fan, for apparent causes. The concept there’s a liquid ocean there? The place there’s water on Earth, we discover life there. I believe that’s actually cool.

Would you contemplate main a small mission of your individual? May you see your self being the lead on a Discovery proposal? Or do you simply wish to work on missions like Curiosity?

The entire above? Is that an choice? I like my job and I positively wish to preserve doing it for some time. And , I’ve carried out some proposal work earlier than. I do prefer it. Up to now, by way of my profession, I’ve actually solely had the chance to work on actually giant missions like Curiosity and Cassini. However I believe it’d be quite a lot of enjoyable to work on a smaller mission, a competed mission like that. So yeah, if the chance ever presents itself and it’s a very cool mission to work on, I’d positively go down that path.

I understand this isn’t your specialty, however what do you consider the funds scenario? Federal spending might be in the reduction of even additional fairly quickly, which might sluggish issues down at NASA.

I’m an engineer, so I don’t are inclined to get entangled with the budgets or the politics a lot. However I believe that the president’s stated that he needs to do a manned mission to Mars within the 2030s, and I believe we’re optimistic that we’ll see much more work carried out in direction of that. And the work on Curiosity and the opposite packages we’re engaged on are making good progress, so I be ok with it, ?

Can we sit up for some thrilling information from the Curiosity staff? We simply had the primary gap drilled in Mars by the rover. Have you ever discovered aliens but?

Ha! One of many issues that strikes me about that first drill is you can instantly inform that the rock beneath is grey, versus the reddish brownish floor of Mars. Although I don’t have the the detailed science investigation background that our science groups have, it makes it very obvious that we’re seeing stuff that hasn’t been weathered and broken by publicity to Mars. That implies that as soon as we begin taking evaluation of that, which needs to be within the subsequent couple of days, we’ll hopefully study quite a lot of very fascinating issues about Mars historical past. And we’ll preserve doing it!

How lengthy will you be locked into your function as Curiosity’s flight director? Are you there till you resolve you don’t wish to be anymore?

It actually is determined by peoples’ curiosity. I believe we’re doing quite a lot of cool issues, so I wish to stick round and see some extra of the firsts. However ultimately, the hope is that we’ll take the information and expertise from Curiosity and apply it to the subsequent mission. 

Do you suppose you’ll ever work on something greater than Curiosity?

I really hope so. I believe that that is the primary mission I’ve spent a lot of my time and my life on, so there’ll by no means be something that fairly replaces it. However I believe that if we do one thing like this to a different place, maybe Europa or Titan, that will be equally, if no more, superb. And if I get to be part of possibly placing the primary crew on Mars, that will be actually an unimaginable accomplishment for me. So I believe there might be one thing greater, however I’ll say that Curiosity will at all times be my primary. 

Do you’ve gotten any curiosity within the astronaut corps? You can be that first man on Mars.

I’m unsure. Possibly, however I actually do love what I do, and I really feel very lucky to get to try this. I believe that takes a really devoted, particular particular person. I’ve some mates who’re making use of, and I’ve the utmost admiration for them. 

If any person supplied you the job of director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, would you’re taking it?

Most likely not! I believe that sounds much more worrying even than my job.

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