"There're two important advances that I think Curiosity will bring to scientists like me," said McKay. "One is the ability to go up to different outcrops and different soil types and sample them. Dig in a pick something up and analyze it. And the other is the instruments themselves are much more sophisticated than previous examples. In the case of the instrument I'm involved in, the organic analyzer, this instrument has modes that the previous organic instrument on Viking did not have. And I think these modes will allow us to detect definitively, on Mars, the presence of organics. So I'm hoping that in maybe a couple of months, I can stand before you again and say yes, we know there are organics on Mars, here's their concentration, here's the type of organics that are there. That's very exciting. It's the first step towards advancing our knowledge of whether there was life on Mars and could we find evidence of it."
With a team of 300 scientists working on the program, NASA hopes that's just one of many findings to come.