Engineering whiz kid Ahmed Mohamed has had a busy month: from Texas, to San Francisco, to Sudan, to Washington, D. C. Next stop, Mars?
The 14-year-old, whose homemade clock got him arrested when high school teachers in Irving, Texas, mistook it for a bomb, capped off several weeks of high-profile visits with tech and political leaders with the biggest invite of all: after President Obama reached out in a message retweeted more than 430,000 times, Ahmed was asked to attend “Astronomy Night” at the White House Monday evening.
The astronomy fan – he was sporting a NASA T-shirt at the time of his arrest – had a chance to chat with astronaut Alvin Drew on the South Lawn, where he was spotted grinning broadly as the two posed for pictures.
But he’s scheduled to come even closer to space: Homer Hickam, whose own teenage experiments in Coalwood, W. Va., led to a career as a NASA engineer, and whose autobiographical novel "Rocket Boys" became a bestselling book and the film "October Sky," has provided a scholarship for Ahmed to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
“We need to inspire more young people to ask about the stars,” Mr. Obama said at Monday’s event, echoing his original tweet to Ahmed. “We have to watch for and cultivate and encourage those glimmers of curiosity and possibility – not suppress them, not squelch them.”
The president also reminded listeners of NASA’s next goal: humans on the red planet by the 2030s. “Some of you might be on your way to Mars,” he told young people.
With help from teens, Obama took a turn peering through telescopes and checking out moon rocks and meteorites — and taking selfies, of course.
The first Astronomy Night, billed as “A Celebration of Science, Technology, and Space,” took place in 2009, and is part of the administration’s effort to promote interest in so-called STEM fields, which include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Ahmed and Obama briefly chatted and hugged on the lawn Monday. The teen has said he hopes to attend MIT and become an engineer.
Although he has expressed appreciation for the president’s support, Ahmed may not have felt so starstruck to meet him, after also visiting Google, Facebook, and, more controversially, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir since his clock misadventure went viral.
“Thank you for your support! I really didn’t think people would care about a muslim boy,” Ahmed tweeted on September 16 as #IStandWithAhmed took over the Internet.
Many of his supporters objected to the school’s alleged anti-Muslim bias in assuming that his clock was a bomb, while others called it staff’s due diligence in an era of heightened school security.
Asked what he’s learned from his four weeks of fame – so far – Ahmed told the Associated Press, "Don't judge a person by the way they look. Always judge them by their heart."
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.