Wernher von Braun on "The Mohawk Guy"

Everyone seems to be talking about Bobak Ferdowsi, a.k.a. “Mohawk Guy,” the telegenic young NASA rocket scientist who captured the social media world’s heart with his punk rock hairdo. With NASA battling budget cuts, image is more important than ever -- something Wernher von Braun, the legendary ex-Nazi rocket scientist who oversaw the Mercury and Apollo programs, knew all about. With the help of a social medium, MediaPost has contacted von Braun for a quick interview about PR and space exploration in the age of social media.

Q: Thank you, Herr von Braun, for interrupting your afterlife to speak to us.

A: Not a problem at all, I am only too happy to share my thoughts on NASA’s latest amazing technical feat. It’s only natural for lay people to be curious about how these wonders of science and engineering are accomplished.

Q: Actually, Wernher, we were hoping to talk to you about Bobak Ferdowsi -- you know, Mohawk Guy?

A: You interrupt my afterlife to ask about Mohawk Guy? You’ve got be kidding.

Q: Well, he’s actually relevant to the whole issue of funding and NASA’s future. I mean, intentionally or not, he’s now the charismatic young face of an agency that is striving to reinvent itself. You yourself put a great emphasis on PR, didn’t you?

A: Of course! While my primary vocation was of course rocket engineering, I soon discovered that this PR, as you call it, is a crucial part of obtaining support for space programs which were often criticized by detractors as expensive and risky. I was always very receptive to the American and international press, and I understood the importance of simplifying complicated technical matters for journalists and their audiences.

Q: Was that also true in Germany, with the V-1 and V-2 rocket programs?

A: Yes, although the audience you had to persuade was much smaller: essentially an audience of one.

Q: Moving on…

A: I mean the Führer.

Q: Yes, I know. Moving on to…

A: Good old Adolf.  Adolf Hitler.

Q: Yes, quite. Moving on to today’s world, would you say social media has changed the way NASA shapes its own image?

A: Yes und no. What remains the same is the need to create an accessible, attractive image for NASA which makes people feel that they are participating in the space program, that they are actually part of it, rather than merely a spectator. The nature of the medium is different, in its, how you say, interactivity, which of course makes this easier. This “Mohawk Guy,” as you call him, can actually speak with his followers on Twitter -- giving him a chance to subtly advance NASA’s agenda. Complement this with the old-fashioned stuff which I pioneered -- the public speaking opportunities, the “meet and greets,” appearances on TV, etc. -- and you have a winner.

Q: That’s good advice. As far as his particular image, what do you think about the Mohawk?

A: If it helps burnish NASA’s image with the younger generations, then it is all to the good. Otherwise it is immaterial to me.  Of course no NASA engineers in my day had such unconventional hairstyles. And working for Hitler, forget about it! He was a real stickler for such things.

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1 comment about "Wernher von Braun on "The Mohawk Guy"".
  1. Dave Brody from Purch , August 15, 2012 at 2:26 p.m.
    I respect where you were going with this Erik. And there's a valid point behind what you say. But this isn't funny territory. We who report on space (we're SPACE.com) are keenly aware that the successful exploration of space is built, in part, on the dark history of slave labor in the Nazi rocket development effort. Von Braun was grabbed by the US for his team's engineering acumen, ruthless program management, and slippery moral willingness to put result over method. That 1960s America found him in any way likeable says much more about our ignorance and insensitivity at the time than it does about his marketing skills.