Obama Calls Mars Rover Team, Considers Mohawk

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The team behind NASA's Mars Curiosity rover was treated to a congratulatory call from the president today. Phoning into the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Obama told the technicians and administrators he "could not be more excited" about what they've been up to.

"Somebody asked me the other day whether you had already found Martians," the president said. "I said we have to give you a little bit of time but we know you're all hard at work and getting some well deserved rest after a successful landing. I just wanted to call and say congratulations to the entire Mars Science Laboratory team and really all of JPL."

Obama would later tell those NASA employees, "If in fact you do make contact with Martians, please let me know right away."

Several hundred NASA employees crammed into a mission control center to hear the call. The president said their dedication had, "captured the attention, imagination of millions of people. Not just across our country, but people all around the world."

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Curiosity touched down on the red planet during the early hours of Aug. 6, executing what may be regarded as the most complex robotic landing ever successfully attempted in space. In what NASA had previously dubbed as " seven minutes of terror," a complicated series of parachutes, rocket boosters, and a new "sky crane," lowered the Mini Cooper-sized rover into the rust-colored soil.

Of 40 spacecraft sent to Mars from the U.S., Russia, Japan, and European Union, 26 have failed.

Obama said their "mind boggling" success in the operation - and its future scientific payoff - "embodies the American spirit."

"Curiosity is going to be telling us things that we did not know before, and laying the ground work for an even more audacious effort in the future and that is a human mission to the red planet."

The president thanked the team leaders present for the call, but had a special shout out for flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, whose Mohawk hairdo turned him into an Internet celebrity this week when he was spotted by viewers of the landing.

"I, in the past, thought about getting a Mohawk myself," the president joked. "My team keeps on discouraging me. Now that he's received marriage proposals and thousands of new Twitter followers I think I may go back to my team and see if it makes sense."

Obama said the country's scientists had come "a long way from the white shirt, dark-rimmed glasses, and the pocket protectors."

On other side of the call, NASA's JPL Director Charlies Elachi responded that it was a new fashion in the agency.

Turning back to our own planet, the president attempted to remind listeners of his administration's dedication to math and science education, hoping it would inspire more young people to take up the pursuit of knowledge.

"We're fortunate to be part of a society that can reach the outer planets; explore frontiers that were only imagined by our ancestors. So it's inspiring to all of us."

The president made the call from aboard Air Force One as he flew between Chicago and Omaha, Neb. on a campaign trip.

President Obama wasn't the only candidate to praise the Mars mission today. Addressing supporters in Florida, Mitt Romney said, "We just landed on Mars and took a good look at what's going on there."

"And I know the Chinese are planning on going to the moon and I hope they have a good experience doing that," he said. "And I hope they stop in and take a look at our flag that was put there 43 years ago!"