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Mission to Mars: NASA engineers visit Rice University to talk about Curiosity

NASA_Mars Rover_Rice University_Bobak Ferdowsi_Ravi Prakash
Bobak Ferdowsi, left, and Ravi Prakash visited Rice University on Thursday. Jeff Fitlow/Rice University
NASA_Mars Rover_Rice University_Bobak Ferdowsi_Ravi Prakash
Both are engineers with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and participated on the Mars Curiosity rover landing in August.  Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Who didn't await the outcome of the Mars Curiosity's "seven minutes of terror" with bated breath and an eye on the guy sporting a mohawk in the NASA control room?

On Thursday, Rice University brought that iconic figure back into the spotlight when hosted Bobak "Mohawk Guy" Ferdowsi and Ravi Prakash, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for an installment of the Space Frontier Lecture Series.

David Alexander, director of the Rice Space Institute and professor of physics and astronomy, told CultureMap that students were "jazzed" to hear these two enthusiastic and passionate young scientists talk about their involvement with such a major project. 

After a long day of visiting classrooms and interacting with Rice students and staff, Prakash and Ferdowsi gave a 45-minute presentation to a packed house at McMurtry Auditorium, followed by a 45-minute question and answer session — that ended only when Alexander cut it off.

Alexander said that even he was surprised to learn, firsthand, the amount of preparation and the degree of complexity that goes into a mission like the Mars Curiosity rover's, and about the precision with which the team was able to land the space craft, given that they were using Apollo-era algorithms and software.

"I don't know how we're going to follow it," admitted Alexander, who is still working to secure two lecturers for the spring semester.

Watch the video documenting Ferdowsi and Prakash's Rice visit above.

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