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On Wednesday, November 21 On Mars reported on project leader Dr. John Grotzinger's interview with NPR where he had made his "one for the history books" remark, raising expectations for an upcoming NASA presentation of its work so far with the roving Mars Science Laboratory.

Now, NASA is dialing expectations down a notch as they sort of explain that Dr. G meant the mission itself is one for the history books, not necessarily the particular findings to be announced by NASA at a press conference in San Francisco next Monday morning, to be followed by Dr. Grotzinger and team's afternoon presentation to the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.

Here is what NASA is saying now:

Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover's full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds -- carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.

The Mars Science Laboratory Project and its Curiosity rover are less than four months into a two-year prime mission to investigate whether conditions in Mars' Gale Crater may have been favorable for microbial life. Curiosity is exceeding all expectations for a new mission with all of the instruments and measurement systems performing well. This is spectacular for such a complex system, and one that is operated so far away on Mars by people here on planet Earth. The mission already has found an ancient riverbed on the Red Planet, and there is every expectation for remarkable discoveries still to come.

What jumps out at me is the text that I emboldened. That statement leaves the door wide open for an announcement that, thus far, they have found ambiguous evidence of Martian organics. Alas, we will have wait until Monday to know.

On Monday, an online stream will be available here.

For all of my Mars diaries and all things Mars on Daily Kos go to Kossacks on Mars.

Originally posted to Kossacks on Mars on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 06:39 PM PST.

Also republished by Astro Kos and SciTech.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I still think it will be one for the history (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, Larsstephens, IndieGuy

    books even without organic evidence.

    "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's the thing you know for sure that just ain't so." Mark Twain

    by Expat Okie on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 06:45:40 PM PST

  •  Organics would = life = Martians? I hope so! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat


    "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room." - President Merkin Muffley

    by Farkletoo on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 06:46:59 PM PST

  •  NASA parsing earlier claims (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nchristine, Paulie200

    who would have thunk?

    I am 100% for investment in space but NASA really is its own worst enemy.

    •  Don't think it was "official" NASA. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mookins, Bob Love, IndieGuy

      I think Grotzinger was off on his own.  NASA is stuck with the PhD's and engineers that they get, some of whom don't ever read the rules (i.e. those on announcements and news of discovery) and some of whom read the rules and go out of their way to break them.

      Probably exactly as it should be, no one really wants to clamp down on the scientists, and they wouldn't stand for it anyway.

      My hunch is Grotzinger was just free wheeling and didn't expect the impact that he got from what he said.

  •  NASA had better get its act together. This sloppy (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DaveV, Bob Love

    and stupid kind of communication with the press is the last thing they needed right now when they just had their main Mars exobiology missions cancelled. That was a huge mistake, but NASA didn't do itself any favors here. You don't abruptly raise expectations with nothing to back it up. You don't call something "earthshaking" and "for the history books" one day and then issue a clumsy denial the next day saying that everything NASA does is earthshaking and historic. So, we don't really have anything new or conclusive to report, but just the fact that were here is historic. That adds insult to injury. NASA needs a real plan, both for how they are running this mission and for disciplined and strategic release of the information when they make a finding. Otherwise, Republicans would LOVE to cut their programs, especially since some of these missions that touch on the question of exobiology rankle religious conservatives.

    Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

    by tekno2600 on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 07:06:55 PM PST

    •  Sen. McCain? (8+ / 0-)

      Come on, for crying out loud.  They got the goddamn rover on Mars for fuck's sake.  The engineering/technology feats that enabled that are astounding.  The amount of science that has been conducted in a matter of a couple of MONTHS is astounding.  Yeah, maybe someone got a bit overzealous.  Or perhaps NASA is downplaying things before the press conference.

      Either way, sometimes people get a bit overexcited.  You, however, need to cut these NASA folks a bit of slack.

      •  I have to agree. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bevenro, PeterHug

        At least we should wait and see just what Dr. G's team presents in the press conference and at the presentation. I just hope the press conference doesn't devolve into cross examination of Dr. G about the NPR interview. Whether or not it does, the five segment two hour afternoon presentation to the AGU conference should be riveting, in a geeky sort of way.If I can find a live feed for the press conference, I may try to work out my schedule so I can live blog it.

        Aren't you glad that the clueless won't get a chance to run the country again, just yet? Yeah. Me too.

        by LeftOfYou on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 07:42:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm definitely waiting and hoping they will do a (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Bob Love

          good job at the press conference. But, I still feel that registering my displeasure is appropriate. It takes a lot to piss off a NASA supporter, but they have managed to do it in this case, and I know I'm not the only one. I am saying all of this constructively, so that NASA knows it's serious and they need to do better. Giving a sugar coated response would have just hid the real facts about how many people feel. So, I figure I owe them the brutal truth.

          Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

          by tekno2600 on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 10:45:18 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Sorry. But you're wrong on MANY levels. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Bob Love


        "they got the goddamn rover on Mars for fuck's sake."
        Bull. Shit. They've had rovers on Mars for fuck sake. What this is about is a media screw up...and one big one can wipe out a thousand small victories.

        get over this "astounding," "engineering/technology feats" and other crappola. You're playing into this "everything we do is historic" meme which is just the wrong way to say things. Even if it is partially true, don't do down that path, because it makes NASA sound arrogant. If they present the facts right, they don't need to brag. They get all kinds of praise. But, if you try to brag right after you screw up, that usually backfires.  Also, what matters most is how you explain things. You may have an orgasm over science data, but that's not going to do it for the general public.

        And, to be fair, the only major breakthrough they've had so far that the other rovers haven't is to confirm water by taking a picture of an obvious sedimentary rock. I was very disappointed that they instantly moved away from that location, not only because they did so little actual analysis of it, but because they should have sold the living crap out of it to the press. A big missed opportunity. I doubt most of the public know about that success. But, they'll sure as hell hear about it when Fox News trumpets the story that NASA oversold the claims about its findings.  So, far NASA's media communications is pretty poor.

        Further more, if you think they are downplaying things a little before a press conference as some kind of clever strategy, then they are in for a very rude awakening. The real John McCain and others like him will tear them a new one. I'm not the enemy. I'm trying to protect NASA  from people like McCain. So don't make a ridiculous comments comparing me to him. But this is a very dumb strategy,  and the best advice I can give NASA is to pull their heads out and hire some better communicators...yesterday.


        Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

        by tekno2600 on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 09:56:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  your original post was over-the-top bitter. (0+ / 0-)

          so I responded to it.

          What NASA, the LHC, Fermilab--all of these do is most definitely astounding.  I didn't say impossible.  But it's a huge deal to be able to accomplish these things.  

          Sure, maybe someone overstepped the company line and got a bit over-excited--but you can call attention to the mistake without going completely over-the-top.  In doing so, you act quite similarly to McCain, Graham, and the anti-Rice wackos.

          And I'm not sure I agree with your assessment that because they found evidence of fluvial activity in an alluvial fan they should have stayed there.... seems to me that if you're looking for some of the more telling hydrological evidence you'd want to move towards the source anyway.  The sediments may be more telling further upstream, I would imagine.

          •  Your comparison of me to McCain was unfair and (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bob Love

            bitter. You're sounding like a little fanboy instead of an objective observer. I didn't attack anyone personally. But, NASA was sloppy in the way they communicated and I think that was stupid. They need to learn from it.

            If the lesson they take from this they they did nothing wrong and they were just victims of the media, then this kind of thing will happen again and again. If it does, don't be surprised when you see them losing funding.

            Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

            by tekno2600 on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 10:17:52 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  I think the point was that NASA engineers (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SLKRR, tekno2600

        shouldn't be doing PR.

        "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

        by Bob Love on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 11:25:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  For what it's worth, NASA never called it (6+ / 0-)

      "earthshaking"... that was the NPR reporter.   In fact, NPR has scrubbed its own article because of the problem that wording caused.  Here's the original:

      Grotzinger says they recently put a soil sample in SAM, and the analysis shows something earthshaking. "This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good," he says.
      Here's the scrubbed version:
      Grotzinger says they recently put a soil sample in SAM, and the analysis shows something remarkable. "This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good," he says.
      Yes, Grotzinger probably overreached with the "one for the history books" - although in context it's really not that bad - but there was clearly some journalistic overreach here that caused the story to blow up the way it did.  I don't blame NASA for the kerfuffle.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 07:48:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not true. MANY news stories quote "earthshaking" (0+ / 0-)

        as something Grotzinger said.

        Even though the NPR story doesn't put the words in quotes, the sentence paraphrases Grotzinger as SAYING the analysis shows something earthshaking. If he disagreed with that, he should have told the reporter immediately. Better yet, let your media spokesperson talk to the press and focus on your science.

        Even if NPR is walking back the exact words, the damage is already done. Just do a google search.

        And he shouldn't have been saying this was "one for the history books" either, especially if he is just going to give a mundane, inconclusive report on Monday. Declaring every report you make to be historic is not going to fly. So, I don't think NASA's an innocent victim here or that this was journalistic overreach. I think Grotzinger shot his mouth off and hopefully learns not to do that in the future.

        Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

        by tekno2600 on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 10:11:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  No. (0+ / 0-)

          The stories are wrong.  The main source was always NPR, and you can listen to the actual audio interview.  You don't have to believe me: listen to it for yourself.

          People saw NPR using "earthshaking" and then applied it to Grotzinger.   I doubt anyone, least of all Grotzinger, would have expected the blogosphere to narrow in on that line and turn it into a fiesta.  Once that happened, NASA tried to tone things down, and NPR apparently acquiesced.

          But this is why we use primary sources.

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 11:15:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Don't get too lost in the weeds. Grotzinger (0+ / 0-)

            shouldn't have said this was going to be one for the history books if he just was going to give an unremarkable report on sensor data. When he said "it's looking really good" that also made it sound like he was on the verge of confirming something important; like he was just double checking the data, and boy way it looking good. But now he's suggesting that just turning the sensors on and off is historic and looking really good. I think there were screw ups on both sides. But, I take issue with the idea that NASA was just a victim of the media.

            Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

            by tekno2600 on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 11:27:20 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The guy's a scientist, not a PR person. (0+ / 0-)

              He was literally looking at incoming data during the interview, data which obviously excited him, and trying to convey his excitement without committing to an explanation that hadn't yet been fully confirmed.  

              It'd be a different thing entirely if NASA had put out a press release it had to retract.  

              Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

              by pico on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 11:41:03 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I'd forgive him and tell him not to do any more (0+ / 0-)

                impromptu interviews with the press. This actually is not the first time Grotzinger has expressed somewhat overly excited claims to the press. So, he needs to be careful and NASA needs to get much better PR policies and communication professionals on staff to handle this in the future.

                Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

                by tekno2600 on Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 09:39:11 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  I don't know. This could be Kahoutek II. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere ". C. S. Lewis

    by TofG on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 07:07:40 PM PST

  •  What's up with NASA scientists (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    having, like zero social/media skills?

    "Jersey_Boy" was taken.

    by New Jersey Boy on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 08:36:14 PM PST

  •  "Nothing to see here, folks, move along..." (0+ / 0-)

    I put the probability at about 70% that at some point after the NPR interview, someone came up with an explanation for whatever the data showed that is much less "remarkable" (not to say "earthshattering") than the one everyone leapt to originally--which either has turned out to be the case, or cannot be ruled out at the level of tech available on Curiosity.

    (Wouldn't be the first time either. When the Viking landerrs reached Mars in summer 1976, folks went nuts over experimental results that looked for all the world like unambiguous signature of biological activity on Mars...until someone showed that the same results could be explained by the presence of inorganic superoxides on the Martian surface, a more plausible but far less "earthshattering" possibility.)

    I put the probability at about 29% that there was some sort of glitch in the equipment that invalidated the original results.

    The last 1% is reserved for the Alcoa-haberdashery possibility that The Powers That Be have decided they can't risk revealing the actual "remarkable" implications & have spent the intervening time working up a cover story. (I ginned up an example of a sort of discovery TPTB might want to keep the lid on in an earlier diary--that post may be found here. Click on over, you might find it entertaining speculation if nothing else...)

    It's not a "fiscal cliff," it's a Fiscal Bluff--so why don't we call them on it?

    by Uncle Cosmo on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 09:29:20 PM PST

  •  Awkward walkback (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    IndieGuy, PeterHug

    Here's the actual quote from Dr. Grotzinger (my emphasis added):

    We're getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak. And the data looks really interesting. The science team is busily chewing away on it. This data is going to be one for the history books. It's looking really good.
    He pretty clearly is talking about a specific set of data being one for the history books, not the mission in general.

    That said, being a scientist and not a PR person, he could have been talking about some highly technical discovery about Martian soil chemistry.  In other words, something that might be momentous to other scientists, but to a layman would appear to be incomprehensible minutiae, and not related to possible life on Mars (e.g. "OMG, the betazoid index is three splorgs higher than the Frobozz theorem predicts!!!1!!".

  •  I could be something as simple as Gold (0+ / 0-)

    Nothing earth-shattering.

    But hey, they were sifting sand in an ancient riverbed.

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