Obama praises JPL team for Mars rover Curiosity, mulls a mohawk

Los Angeles Times

President Obama called up the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Monday to congratulate scientists on successfully landing the most advanced rover ever sent to the Red Planet.

The president, who called the Mars Science Laboratory mission team members “examples of American know-how and ingenuity,” pledged to protect such investments into the future, talked mohawks, Martians and future manned missions to Mars.

The Mars Science Laboratory rover, also known as Curiosity, touched down on the Martian surface Aug. 5. The $2.5-billion mission, managed by JPL in La Cañada-Flintridge, has an advanced set of tools to explore the planet's surface, from a rock-blasting laser to a chemical laboratory that allows it to ingest and "taste" samples’ chemical makeup.

Its goal: To look for the ingredients for life – signs that there are places where microbial critters, whether they ever existed, could have survived.

The rover mission would be "laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future, and that's a human mission to the Red Planet," the president said. 

“I’m going to give you guys a personal commitment to protect these critical investments in science and technology,” he added.

Obama’s statement comes after sharp cuts to the Mars budget in recent months. The president’s fiscal plan for 2013 looks to cut NASA’s Mars exploration funds by nearly 39%, from $587 million to $360 million.

Obama also weighed in on the meteoric rise of Bobak Ferdowsi, also known to his fans as "Mohawk Guy." Ferdowsi, a flight director for the Mars mission, sported a striking stars-and-stripes hairdo for the historic landing, catching the eye of countless viewers who watched the Mars landing via live stream that Aug. 5 night.

“I, in the past, thought about getting a mohawk myself –- but my team keeps on discouraging me,” Obama told the JPL staff, to much laughter.  “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.”

The president congratulated the scientists' advancing fashion sense along with their more-advanced rovers. 

"It does sound like NASA has come a long way from the white shirt, black dark-rimmed glasses and the pocket protectors," the president joked. "You guys are a little cooler than you used to be."

Obama had one request for the scientists and engineers at JPL.

“If in fact you do make contact with Martians, please let me know right away,” the president said. “I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate, but I suspect that that will go to the top of the list.”

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