That’s tough. I do think that, for people who don’t have the opportunity to see NASA people every day, that it was a little bit of a shock. I think most people’s images are like the Apollo 13 version of NASA: the traditional white shirt, the narrow black tie, the horn-rimmed glasses.
But the reality is, even if you look back at some of these older pictures of Mission Control, there’s an old picture here at JPL of some guys wearing Spock ears for one of the launches. So I think there’s always been a sense of having fun for these things. All these missions are so much work and so hard that you have to find ways of enjoying them as well.
Like I said, I don’t think my hair is all that crazy for JPL and NASA.
Who else on the Mars mission has their own distinctive style?
Our esteemed Dr. Adam Steltzner, he’s got a pretty awesome rockabilly hairstyle. One of our other EDL people from Langley, she has a little red streak going on in her hair. So we have all types. Sitting right next to me was Steve Collins, and people affectionately call him a hippie guy -- he’s got long grayish hair and a good beard going on. So yeah, I think we have all sorts.
Obviously we have more typical looks as well but I think for people here, that diversity is really valued. What it really boils down to is we admire each other for the work we do.
What’s the next hairstyle going to be?
I don’t know. Maybe if we somehow make an amazing discovery in the next few weeks, maybe I’ll do something for that. Otherwise I think it’ll kind of grow out naturally, go back to a normal mohawk or faux-hawk. Maybe not so vibrant.
It just sort of evolves. I don’t want to be that guy who has the same haircut until I’m 70.
Do you think your image will inspire more kids to think NASA -- and science in general -- might actually be cool?
That would be like a dream come true for me. I would love to be working here 10 years from now and some guy who was in high school or middle school at the time sees me and is like, "I remember you, you’re one of the reasons I got into NASA." Even if one kid is like that, I’d probably get a little emotional.
I think the stuff we do here so is so cool, and I’m OK with kind of being an example of 1) it takes all types and 2) you don’t have to look like anything -- you can be who you are. As long as you have a passion and a willingness to work hard, you can work here.
I can’t really explain how incredible an experience this whole thing has been.
This interview has been edited for space and clarity.