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Science Launching on SpaceX's 24th Cargo Resupply Mission to the Space Station


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      Karen Fox / Erin Morton 
      Headquarters, Washington 
      202-358-1275 / 202-805-9393
      karen.fox@nasa.gov / erin.morton@nasa.gov
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      Last Updated Jul 16, 2024 LocationNASA Headquarters Related Terms
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    • By NASA
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      In this time-lapse video of a test conducted at JPL in June 2023, an engineering model of the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover places itself against a rock to collect data. NASA/JPL-Caltech Artificial intelligence is helping scientists to identify minerals within rocks studied by the Perseverance rover.
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      For almost three years, the rover mission has been testing a form of artificial intelligence that seeks out minerals in the Red Planet’s rocks. This marks the first time AI has been used on Mars to make autonomous decisions based on real-time analysis of rock composition.
      PIXL, the white instrument at top left, is one of several science tools located on the end of the robotic arm aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover. The Mars rover’s left navcam took the images that make up this composite on March 2, 2021NASA/JPL-Caltech The software supports PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), a spectrometer developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. By mapping the chemical composition of minerals across a rock’s surface, PIXL allows scientists to determine whether the rock formed in conditions that could have been supportive of microbial life in Mars’ ancient past.
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      This image of a rock target nicknamed “Thunderbolt Peak” was created by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover using PIXL, which determines the mineral composition of rocks by zapping them with X-rays. Each blue dot in the image represents a spot where an X-ray hit.NASA/JPL-Caltech/DTU/QUT Data from Perseverance’s instruments, including PIXL, helps scientists determine when to drill a core of rock and seal it in a titanium metal tube so that it, along with other high-priority samples, could be brought to Earth for further study as part of NASA’s Mars Sample Return campaign.
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      “The idea behind PIXL’s adaptive sampling is to help scientists find the needle within a haystack of data, freeing up time and energy for them to focus on other things,” said Peter Lawson, who led the implementation of adaptive sampling before retiring from JPL. “Ultimately, it helps us gather the best science more quickly.”
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      AI assists PIXL in two ways. First, it positions the instrument just right once the instrument is in the vicinity of a rock target. Located at the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm, the spectrometer sits on six tiny robotic legs, called a hexapod. PIXL’s camera repeatedly checks the distance between the instrument and a rock target to aid with positioning.
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      Once PIXL is in position, another AI system gets the chance to shine. PIXL scans a postage-stamp-size area of a rock, firing an X-ray beam thousands of times to create a grid of microscopic dots. Each dot reveals information about the chemical composition of the minerals present.
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      “PIXL is kind of a Swiss army knife in that it can be configured depending on what the scientists are looking for at a given time,” said JPL’s David Thompson, who helped develop the software. “Mars is a great place to test out AI since we have regular communications each day, giving us a chance to make tweaks along the way.”
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      More About the Mission
      A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
      Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
      The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
      JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
      For more about Perseverance:
      mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
      News Media Contacts
      Andrew Good
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
      818-393-2433
      andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov
      Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
      NASA Headquarters, Washington
      202-358-1600 / 202-358-1501
      karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov
      2024-099
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      Last Updated Jul 16, 2024 Related Terms
      Perseverance (Rover) Astrobiology High-Tech Computing Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars Mars 2020 Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) Robotics Science-enabling Technology Explore More
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