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Martian Diaries

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By Jeffrey Marlow

President Obama Phones Mars Rover Team
President Barack Obama talks on the phone with NASA's Curiosity Mars rover team aboard Air Force One during a flight to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Aug. 13, 2012. Watch the Video

Late on day seven (Sol 7) of Curiosity's stay in Gale Crater, the science team gathered for its typical end-of-day meeting, eager to discuss bedding planes, dune fields, and rock outcrops. The meeting was productive, but it ended rather abruptly after two hours, a rare hard cut-off for what is usually a free flowing, sprawling exchange of ideas and opinions.

There was a phone call coming in, and it wasn't one you decide to take later.

The voice on the other end of the line was that of President Barack Obama, calling aboard Air Force One. JPL Director, Dr. Charles Elachi, took the call while the Curiosity team stood by in their trademark blue polo shirts. The science team set aside its geological maps and was patched in.

"I just want you to know that we could not me more excited about what you've been doing," President Obama said. "Curiosity stuck the landing and captured the attention and imagination of millions of people, not just across our country but people all around the world."

The President also explained how Mars Science Lab fits within the larger context of his vision for space exploration. "What you've accomplished embodies the American spirit," the president said. "Our expectation is that Curiosity is going to be telling us things we did not know before and laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future, and that's a human mission to Mars."

In the meantime, "We can't wait to start hearing back from Curiosity and finding out what's going on," President Obama explained. "We're fortunate to be a part of a society that can reach beyond our planet and explore frontiers that were only imagined by our ancestors. It's really what makes us special as a species."

The phone call also made clear that not even President Obama is immune to the cultural phenomenon that is "Mohawk Guy." Flight Director, Bobak Ferdowsi, rocketed to internet fame overnight after viewers noticed the now infamous hairdo in mission control. "NASA's come a long way from the white shirts, dark-rimmed glasses, and the pocket protectors," President Obama said. "You guys are a little cooler than you used to be."

Regarding the search for martians, the President cut the team a little bit of slack. "We have to give you a little bit of time," he said. "We know you're all hard at work." Nonetheless, he did request notification in the event of the discovery of little green men or their microbial counterparts. "If in fact you do make contact with the Martians, please let me know right away," he quipped. "I've got a lot of other things on my plate, but that will go to the top of the list."