Since the initial announcement from Mars rover project scientist John Grotzinger, NASA has been trying to curb public expectations and wild speculation from the press. The moment Grotzinger said the word “earthshattering,” everyone immediately went to “we found life on Mars.”
“This data is gonna be one for the history books,” Grotzinger said. And it very may well be. But after the speculation of Curiosity fining life on Mars became a little too great, NASA’s downplayed the results. Guy Webster of NASA’s been doing his best to try to temper expectations:
The scientists want to gain confidence in the findings before taking them outside of the science team. As for history books, the whole mission is for the history books.
Which is absolutely true. io9’s Robert T. Gonzalez notes that the hype had been overblown, and even I have personally gone too far in speculating on what Curiosity could’ve found. The thing one has to realize is what the Mars Rover can do. Our robot — running around on the surface of Mars, mind you — was capable of analyzing organic compounds. Life can’t exist without organic compounds. Organic compounds, however, can exist without life.
Meaning, if we find methane, we may be able to infer that at one time conditions were habitable for life to exist on the planet. Doesn’t guarantee it, but it’s more evidence. However, that isn’t the case right now.
I think we can all take a step back and agree that a one-ton robot that we sent from one planet to land on an entirely different planet that can communicate high-res images back to us and analyze samples of soil from another planet is badass, every day.
And let’s keep things in mind:
Turn that frown upside down: We're fewer than four months into a multi-year mission. We've only just begun!
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) November 29, 2012
Settle in. Settle down. This is what discovery’s about.