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* Analysis of rock powder showed Mars was habitable
* Search ongoing for organic carbon
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., March 12 (Reuters) - Seven months after NASA's rover Curiosity landed on Mars to assess if the planet most like Earth had the ingredients for life, scientists have their answer: Yes.
Analysis of a powder drilled from an ancient and once water-soaked rock at the rover's Gale Crater landing site show clays, sulfates and other minerals that are all key to life, the scientists told a news conference at NASA's headquarters on Tuesday.
The water that once flowed through the area, known as Yellowknife Bay, was likely drinkable, said Curiosity's lead scientist John Grotzinger, who is with the California Institute of Technology.
The analysis stopped short of a confirmation of organics, which are necessary for Earth-like life. But with 17 more months left in the rover's primary mission, scientists said they expect to hone in on that question.
The scientists, who spoke at the U.S. space agency's headquarters in Washington, also talked on a conference call with reporters based elsewhere.
While the $2.5 billion Curiosity mission is not a life-detection exploration, it is intended to find places where organics, if they exist, could have been preserved.
The rover touched down inside Gale Crater on Aug. 6 to begin the two-year mission. (Editing by Tom Brown and Christopher Wilson)