Cool NASA dudes

NASA: dispelling the image that scientists are nerds.

First, meet Adam Steltzner, who designed the crazy, Rube-Goldbergish system for landing Rover on Mars.  There’s a National Public Radio profile of him which you can either read or listen to. But the salient fact is this (emphasis mine):

He has pierced ears, wears snakeskin boots and sports an Elvis haircut. He’s quick to laugh and curious about everything. Steltzner’s laid-back style makes team meetings a jolly affair. I stopped by one of those meetings during my visit. The jollity was still there, but it was clear that the prelanding tension was rising.

And he’s a handsome dude, too:

But the guy who has received most of the attention is Mohawk Guy, with the eponymous haircut and stars shaved into the side of his head. As the Atlantic reports:

The wearer, it turns out, was mission Activity Lead Bobak Ferdowsi, manning the controls in NASA’s self-imposed sea of powder-blue polos. Ferdowsi gets a new hairdo for each new mission — and this particular coif was the one voted on, for the Curiosity landing, by the rest of his team. It was meant to be patriotic as well as cosmic: Apparently the original design was supposed to incorporate blue.

Another nice-looking fellow:

Of course he was subject to many “tweets”(these from the Atlantic piece):

And he even replied:

As HuffPo reports, Bobak has received many marriage proposals on Twitter, e.g.,

And of course Ferdowsi now has his own tumblr page (“NASA needs more mohawks”)—now up to 16 pages of images, many of them hilarious, like this one:

Why can’t fruit flies inspire such ardor?


  1. Grania Spingies
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Why can’t fruit flies inspire such ardor?

    That should be obvious: they don’t have mohawks.

  2. gillt
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I think the Jeff Goldblum movie “Fly” took the sexy out of fly research, at least for a generation.

    • Filipe
      Posted August 9, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      It’s much older than that, Jeff’s Goldblum fly is a very bad remake of a 1958 film.

      • gillt
        Posted August 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        I did not know that

        All evil science, after all, is done in one’s basement.

      • suwise3
        Posted August 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        Watched both Fly movies. You will find that many women definately think Goldbum put the sexy IN that movie. (And after he started to “turn,” we didn’t have to watch that part…)

      • Posted August 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        What do you mean by “very bad”? It’s one of David Cronenberg’s best movies, a definitive body-horror film, and one of Goldblum’s best performances. Also, as Sunwise pointed out, Goldblum was a major sex symbol at the time, so if anything he made flies sexy… At least before the corrosive vomit thing. :-p

        • Filipe
          Posted August 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          I saw the original when I was a kid, and the final scenes with the fly with the human head trapped in the web really impressed me. The original was indeed scary, and the transporter-fly thing central to the plot.

          The recent version wasn’t really scary but gross, if felt like following the progression of some sort of weird disease. I was ignorant of Goldblum’s sexiness, still not a selling point with the recent version.

  3. Posted August 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Why can’t fruit flies inspire such ardor?

    They can certainly inspire some humor: So I was in the middle of a dissection when my assistant turns to me and says, “Your fly is open.”

    Good night everybody!

  4. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    What you need is a Mohawk made out of living fruit flies, sort of like a beekeeper’s bee beard. Maybe that will get you a few marriage proposals.

  5. James Walker
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Woof! Ferdowsi makes me sorry I switched out of physics 🙂

  6. Ken Pidcock
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I was greatly entertained by the NPR profile of Adam Steltzner, which reveals him to have been something of a fuck-up in his youth. I always find such stories inspiring, as they demonstrate that the course of one’s life remains flexible.

  7. darrelle
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I was confused there for a moment. When I read “pierced ears” and “snakeskin boots” I thought, for a brief instant, that they were describing me. Then came “Elvis hair” and “handsome” and reality came crashing back upon me.

    Jerry, if it is celebrity you are looking for, I bet you could find it if you just had your hair done up in a Mohawk with bio designs cut into the sides. Like DNA, or a tree of life symbol. Or maybe a Darwin fish. For a final touch hilight the tips with your favorite color. A hoop ear ring with a charm of your favorite lab instrument dangling from it would really set the look off. A microscope maybe.

    • Posted August 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Flies! He could have fly designs cut in, and the word “Drosophila” from ear to nape to other ear.

    • Mary - Canada
      Posted August 9, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      sideburns!…gotta bring back sideburns

      • TJR
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:06 am | Permalink

        Bradley Wiggins already has.

  8. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Jerry you have to upgrade your “game”:

    “Why can’t fruit flies inspire such ardor?”

    Years ago, when I worked inside the “cellar” at a winery, we would get an infestation of fruit flies when a bung came loose on a barrel.

    We cellar guys always referred to them as Drosophilia, and not “fruit flies”. This was the effect of our UC Davis-graduate enologist on us common folk.

    So…never “fruit flies”…always, “Drosophilia”.

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted August 9, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

      You mean “Drosophila”? (Or perhaps “Sophophora” once someone finally gets around to fixing it.)

      • The Other Jim
        Posted August 10, 2012 at 2:51 am | Permalink

        I’m trademarking “The artist formerly known as Drosophila melanogaster

        Still working on the funky symbol.


  9. ManOutOfTime
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Somebody should put that drosophila mating dance to some trance music. That could go viral.

  10. MadScientist
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    We can always borrow Calvin’s Transmogrifier and convert one of those engineers into a new species of monster drosophila.

  11. Posted August 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    My cynical take:
    Fruit flies are harmless (unless you’re a ripe nectarine).
    This is an appropriate day to point out that in August 1945, Physics declared itself the “supreme science” via Fat Man and Little Boy. NASA rides its coattails because there are those who nurture “star wars” fantasies.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh. I do appreciate the beautiful photos, the moon rocks, and the information about the composition of distant planets, moons, and asteroids. But for a lot of it I’m just not genetically programmed properly, I guess.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 9, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      NASA rides its coattails because there are those who nurture “star wars” fantasies. Sorry if this sounds harsh.

      It’s hard to know what it’s even supposed to mean. NASA is about militarism? Virtually nothing NASA does has any serious military value. Military aeronautics and space stuff is done by the DoD.

  12. Kevin
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    OT: That was me who sent you an e-mail this morning about speciation. Different e-mail address.

  13. Posted August 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I bet they make Mohawk Guy do the exact same mohawk for the next breath-holding, super scary stunt Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab works on. He might even be the one handing out the peanuts.

  14. RFW
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    I have to laugh at the emphasis on details like pierced ears, snakeskin boots, a mohawk, etc. Anybody can have those for the expenditure of a few dollars, but not just anybody can manage to land a rover on Mars so neatly.

    These men deserve our intense admiration no matter how they dress or groom themselves, no matter what they look like. As do all the other men and women who contributed to the success of Curiosity. My hat is off to all of them, and I hope everyone else’s is too.

  15. Posted August 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    It’s great to see positive stories and role models in the media promoting how cool it is to be scientists and engineers.

    To quote Chris Knight, “When you’re smart, people need you.”

  16. Filipe
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I remember a press release from Edward Kravitz:

    «When you’re trying to explain this to your children — ‘Dad, what did you do today?’ ‘Well, I had these two fruit flies, son, and I was trying to figure out how to get them to fight.’ Just think of that.»

    And, from the same press release:

    «My student discovered when he transferred the female to the dish and accidentally crushed her head that the males didn’t care whether she had a head or not. That’s a true story of what led us to cutting the heads of the females off in subsequent studies,»

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      Sadly, I know human males like that.

  17. Mike
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Leave the mohawk guy to the women. Adam Steltzner is the guy you want to have a beer (or a dozen) with. It would be a blast to shoot the shit with that guy.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted August 10, 2012 at 5:54 am | Permalink

      Adam Steltzner? I thought it was Alec Baldwin. It will have to be a Baldwin when they make the movie.

  18. kansaskitty
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    I heard the interview on NPR when it aired & loved the story! A loser rocker dude driving around in an old hearse with a bed in the back gets inspired to go back to school from watching how stars changed positions in the night sky as he was driving home after gigs!

    I wondered what the guy looked like after listening to the story on the radio, but it didn’t take me long to figure out which guy was Steltzner when I tuned into NASA TV to watch the Curiosity landing!

  19. ColdThinker
    Posted August 9, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who works at NASA designing and controlling missions to Mars is pretty much the coolest person in the room wherever he/she goes. It hardly takes a mohawk or snake skin boots. But I bet they get a kick whenever some neat insurance manager disparages them because of their unconventional looks, until realizing they work for the frickin’ Nasa putting frickin’ science robots on another frickin’ planet.

  20. zendruid1
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    Can I get a hell-yeah for the guy a couple seats down with the beard and all…?

    • Posted August 10, 2012 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      I’d totally give a “hell, yeah!” for the one with long hair! He had a beard, too, but it was the hair…. Nice!

  21. MaineMapper
    Posted August 10, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    FYI – Dr Steltzner and Dr Ferdowsi were featured on last night’s taping of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me … which will be available online and will air, according to local NPR schedules, starting tomorrow (Saturday). They played the “Not my Job” quiz, and stood up v well to Peter Sagal’s joshing.

  22. Posted August 11, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Adam looks like a young James Brolin.

    You be hot, Jerry.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Cool NASA dudes « Why Evolution Is True […]

  2. […] Maybe when the Mars Rover, Curiosity, landed a few months ago, you saw images of the man who has since been nicknamed “Mohawk Guy”. […]

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