LOS ANGELES: While dozens of rocket scientists packed Nasa's mission control room during a much-vaunted landing of the Mars rover Curiosity, no one made a bigger impression on viewers glued to live TV and Internet coverage of the event than spike-haired Bobak Ferdowsi.
The 32-year-old flight engineer, better known to Mars-struck fans as the Nasa Mohawk Guy, became an overnight Internet sensation and helped generate online buzz for Curiosity, thanks largely to his stars-and-stripes punk-rock hairdo and his hunky good looks.
Ferdowsi, a native of Oakland, California, with a graduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has worn eccentric hairstyles for big missions and projects throughout his nine-year tenure at Nasa, as a kind of good-luck tradition.
For the occasion of Curiosity's landing on Sunday night, colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena held a vote to choose a special new look - a Mohawk dyed red and blue and adorned with stars and stripes.
The look transformed Ferdowsi into an instant aerospace rock star among legions of Mars enthusiasts.
Some 44,000 new followers flocked to his Twitter account as fans circulated viral "memes" with his image, bombarded him with marriage proposals and created dedicated feeds on the micro-blogging site Tumblr, such as the "Nasa Needs More Mohawks" page.
Curiosity took a break from instrument checks on its third full day on Mars to beam back more pictures from the Red Planet, including its first self-portrait and a 360-degree colour view of its home in Gale Crater, Nasa said.
The panoramic mosaic, comprising 130 separate images that Curiosity captured with its newly activated navigation cameras, shows a rust-coloured, pebble-strewn expanse stretching to a wall of the crater's rim in one direction and a tall mound of layered rock in another.