Aug. 6, 2012 at 5:03 PM ET
It's been a crazy 24 hours for flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, and not just because he and the rest of his team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory landed an SUV on Mars. Ferdowsi has catapulted to Internet fame — thanks to his star-spangled Mohawk hairdo and the warm-hearted hotness he exuded during TV coverage of the Curiosity rover's landing.
He's picked up 20,000-plus Twitter followers, with most of those added just since last night. He's getting come-ons from fans of both sexes ("I'd let that be-mohawked NASA dude land his rover on my red planet any time," one admirer wrote). A Tumblr tribute site has been created in his honor. And there's a widely distributed LOL picture with the caption, "Becomes an Internet sensation ... Too busy landing a robot on Mars to notice."
Well, Ferdowsi has noticed.
"It's a little surreal," he told me this morning. "I'm still just getting over the 'We're on Mars' thing. That's the thing I can't believe."
As Ferdowsi strolls through JPL's campus in Pasadena, Calif., he can't resist going over to teammates for hugs. He's been working at the lab for nine years. For most of that time he's been preparing for the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission, and particularly for Sunday night's successful landing. These people are not only his co-workers. They're his friends.
"What a wonderful moment to share together," he said.
Ferdowsi has a habit of adopting a fresh hairdo for each of the space missions for which he's at the controls, based on a vote by his teammates. For the Mars mission, they came up with a variety of fashion choices.
"We had a Martian red," he said. "One vote to shave my head. Natural black. Then we had the Captain America look."
He went with the Captain America Mohawk: black hair flecked with blue and red highlights, plus some bleached white stars on the side. He didn't ponder the effect of having his edgy 'do broadcast on NASA TV, and he was so wrapped up in Curiosity's entry, descent and landing that it took him a while to notice he was becoming a star himself. But then the messages and tweets started popping up on his phone.
"I'm looking down, and thinking, 'This is crazy,'" he recalled.
He was back at work today, trying to do his job while coping with media requests and watching the evolution of a meme.
"I am laughing pretty hard at some of the captions," he said. "I think it's hilarious."
I didn't have the nerve to ask him about his, um, personal relationships — but for all his admirers, here are a couple of factoids: He's 32 years old. He's originally from the Bay Area and still has family there. He earned his bachelor's degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Washington, and he went to MIT to get a master's degree in the same subject.
You can join the Bobak fan club by following @tweetsoutloud. But if his fans really want to get Ferdowsi's attention, they probably shouldn't tweet him a marriage proposal. Instead, they should talk about Mars.
"I hope that they are as excited about Curiosity as I am," the Mohawk Guy said.
Update for 7:35 p.m. ET Aug. 7: Is Mohawk Guy taken? In a follow-up chat with BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner, Ferdowsi reports that he's "dating somebody," and "she's awesome."
"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," Ferdowsi says. A photo on the MemeGenerator website shows Ferdowsi with his arm around a lady friend. The caption reads, "Behind every great Mohawk is a great woman."
Meanwhile, other Internet celebrities are welcoming Mohawk Guy to the fold. Felicia Day told Ferdowsi in a tweet that "your mohawk made my night" — to which Ferdowsi replied, "Your tweet made me blush." Wil Wheaton registered his yen for a NASA Mohawk Guy Fan Club T-shirt — and reportedly put in an order with CafePress.
More about Mars:
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.