Celebratory NASA Handshake Was Inspired by NFL Players

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After scoring a touchdown, NFL players often celebrate in the end zone with elaborate spectacles.

Why should it be any different for NASA engineers?

NASA engineers Gene Bonfiglio and Brooke Harper celebrate a successful touchdown of the Mars InSight lander with an elaborate handshake. (Credit: NASA TV)

After the InSight lander’s successful touchdown Monday on the surface of Mars, mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, erupted in wild cheers. Then a pair of engineers broke out with an intricate handshake that set the internet on fire.

The engineers — ID’d Brooke Harper and Gene Bonfiglio — ran through an energetic series of hand slaps, followed by air punches, forearm bashes, shimmy shakes, fist pumps and finally a hearty high-five.

The inspiration for this Pro Bowl-worthy handshake came from an NFL game back in September between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs. In the game, 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin did the handshake with teammate Kendrick Bourne after scoring a third-quarter TD. (And for good reason. Goodwin was wide open.)

“We knew we were sitting together in the control room, and we thought it would be kind of fun just for the two of us,” said Harper, a Chiefs fan, in an interview that NASA posted. “We saw something that we liked from a previous game, and we kind of mimicked it.”

Bonfiglio, a New England Patriots fan, said it just made sense because the two are always ribbing each other about football and “touchdown celebrations are back” in vogue in the NFL.

They started planning the handshake about six weeks ago, studying video of Goodwin’s and Bourne’s moves and practicing them.

“It’s a great touchdown dance,” Harper said.

When they’re not perfecting the art of NFL handshakes, the two are entry, descent and landing (EDL) systems engineers. EDL engineers are responsible for getting spacecraft from the top of the atmosphere of a planet to the surface safely.

That was no easy feat with InSight’s landing. In less time than it takes to hard-boil an egg, the lander had to slow itself from a speed of 12,300 mph to just 5 mph before gently touching down on the Mars surface. No wonder they call it the “seven minutes of terror.”

As for their now-world famous handshake, they’re happy with it but aren’t convinced it’s ready for the pros just yet.

“(Goodwin) did it better than we did it,” Bonfiglio said.

The good folks of the internet might disagree.

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