Did NASA time its Mars announcement to coincide with 'The Martian'?

Space agency says no, but like life on Mars, the idea isn't so far-fetched

Matt Damon is stranded on Mars — without planetary water — in "The Martian." (Yahoo News photo illustration/20th Century Fox/NASA)

NASA's announcement confirming that it found evidence of water flowing on the surface Mars was celebrated by scientists searching for life in the universe — and by publicists at 20th Century Fox looking to promote "The Martian," the upcoming Ridley Scott film starring Matt Damon.

In the film, Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut who must survive alone on Mars after being left for dead by his crew during a fierce storm on the red planet.

"With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive," reads the studio's description of the film, which is an adaptation of Andy Weir's 2011 novel of the same name.

According to a Yahoo News staffer who read the book, the long-suspected existence of water on Mars was not part of the planet's hostile environment. And the water found on Mars — a briny liquid perchlorate — isn't drinkable, NASA said.

No matter. The marketing team running the verified Twitter feed for "The Martian" quickly capitalized on NASA's announcement.

They even used NASA's press conference for a mashup "Martian" trailer.

"The Martian" is due in theaters Friday.

Talk about some otherworldly timing ... or was it? Did NASA time its Mars announcement to coincide with the film's release?

"No, the timing was dictated by the publication of the Nature Geoscience article, which was released today," Laurie Cantillo, a NASA spokeswoman, told Yahoo News.

It would be a bit hard to imagine the space agency sitting on major Mars news in order for it to collide with a Hollywood movie.

After all, it took “multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery," Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA Mars Exploration program, said at Monday's press conference in Washington.

But in a Yahoo Movies chat with film's cast and director earlier this month, Scott said NASA was "very helpful" in the making of "The Martian."

"They loved the adaptation of the screenplay," Scott said. "They thought it was fun and mostly accurate. When I showed them the film, 40 guys saw it in Washington from NASA, and one muttered, 'Maybe this will help us with reprogramming and the refinancing [of the U.S. space program].' I mean, he was partly joking, but that was very nice."

Emphasis on partly.

"NASA has to keep alive in all our hearts the romance and glory of space travel to stay in tax-funded existence," Peter Bradshaw noted in the Guardian. "And if there is an entertaining movie about a NASA mission to Mars, which at certain points is almost a feature-length ad for NASA ... well, why not time your latest announcement to coincide with its release?"

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