Obama calls Mars rover landing an 'incredible success'
President Barack Obama on Monday morning congratulated the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team that worked on the Mars rover Curiosity, telling a room full of engineers that last week's landing was an "incredible success."
"What you did on Mars was incredibly impressive," the president said during a roughly seven-minute phone call. "It's really mind-boggling what you've been able to accomplish, and being able to get that whole landing sequence to work the way you did is a testimony to your team."
Obama also mentioned flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, who became an online sensation after sporting a star-studded mohawk during the landing.
"I understand there's a special mohawk guy that's working on the mission," Obama said, drawing laughter from the room. "I, in the past, thought about getting a mohawk myself. My team keeps on discouraging me and now that he's received marriage proposals and thousands of new Twitter followers, I'm going to go back to my team and see if it makes sense."
"It does sound like NASA's come a long way from the white shirt and black, dark-rimmed glasses and pocket protectors," the president joked. "You guys are a little cooler than you used to be."
NASA said the rover is going through a four-day "brain transplant," as engineers update its software to prepare it for operations on the surface of Mars. The update will add two crucial functions: the ability to use the geochemistry lab's sampling system and the ability to drive.
The update had to wait until after the rover landed because its processor, built years ago to withstand the harsh environment of interplanetary space, is limited compared with today's consumer technology, senior software engineer Ben Cichy told The Times.
Obama had one request for the Curiosity team as the mission continued.
"If in fact you do make contact with Martians, please let me know right away," the president quipped. "Because I've got a lot of other things on my plate, but I suspect that that will go to the top of the list."
The president said the team's work "captured the attention and imagination of millions of people" across the world as they laid the groundwork for future manned missions to the Red Planet.
"You guys have done an outstanding job," Obama said. "You've made us all proud."
Photo: Ravi Prakash, center, celebrates the successful landing of the Mars rover Curiosity, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Aug. 5. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times