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Published December 11, 2013

Updated December 12, 2013



PASADENA, Calif. – NASA once again finds itself in hot water over a Mars Curiosity rover photograph that appears to include human trash.  This time the culprit appears to be a rusted beer or soda container.

Just last week after allegedly drilling into dry Martian rock, NASA's Curiosity rover allegedly discovered signs that the Mars Gale Crater was once watery and could have hosted an entire Martian biosphere based on a type of microbe found in caves on Earth.  NASA seemed prepared to record the find as a major achievement.  Then something changed all that: another “artifact” turned up in a photograph.  NASA’s victory turned into just the latest turn in a scandal that could upend the once venerable space agency.

A NASA follower and aspiring young future engineer, Jeremy Chen, 10, of Fort-Worth, Texas may have been the first to spot the object in what NASA claims is the Gale Crater.  Chen posted a blowup image of the area surrounding the object on his Instagram account.  Within hours it became clear to curious web surfers that it was no joke.

“Social media certainly played a big role in publicizing this latest photo anomaly,” said Caltech geologist John Howtzinger.  “Chen, of course, also deserves a lot of credit for finding the object first,” he added.

 NASA’s sloppiness once again has exposed a fraud perpetrated against the public. 

“Three strikes and you’re out,” said Peter Dietrich, astrobiologist at University of California, Berkeley.  “Whatever credibility NASA had in explaining these objects in these photographs is gone.”  Dietrich described the geometry of the object as indicating it is “almost 100-percent man-made.”

NASA’s spin-meisters did not miss a beat on trying to tamp down the latest scandal.  “Curiosity discovered that ancient Mars was more habitable than we imagined,” said Curiosity mission press liaison Gorda Levy.  “A little data corruption or odd looking rock formation cannot dissipate our joy at our achievements,” she said.

Dawn Sumner of the University of California, Davis, the mission commander, passed off the latest “UMO” (unexplained Mars object) as another computer glitch in an email: “Apparently, our hard disk drives need some refreshing,” she said.  According to Sumner, the soda can image possibly derives from an earlier photograph that was on the hard disk but not completely overwritten with the Curiosity rover photographs.

Not all observers are impressed.  Mars rover conspiracy theorist and author Bart Sibrol said NASA’s sloppiness once again has exposed a fraud perpetrated against the public.  “These rovers are in the desert about 50 miles west of Tucson Arizona,” said Sibrol.  “NASA has not learned that digital technology exposes their production miscues.”  According to Sibrol, NASA also simulated its lunar landings during the Apollo mission but spent much more energy screening their photographs:  “During the Apollo years, there were much better organized and never would have missed this.”

In the wake of the latest controversy, the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco shelved a conference scheduled for January 2014 that was to focus on Mars’ ancient life-sustaining properties.