The NASA Space Robotics Challenge (SRC) is a virtual challenge with 1 million USD prize money. University teams like MIT Locomotion Group and the Institute of Human Machine Cognition Robotics Lab (IHMC) can participate to prepare humanoid robots for a journey to Mars. The tasks for the “Valkyrie R5” robot are similar to the Darpa Robotics challenge, that means the robot must walk around, pick up objects and close a valve. It is not a real challenge, but a virtual one. The simulator software is called Gazebo.
The idea behind the Space robotics challenge is to motivate university students in developing advanced robotics software and collaborate in teams to solve a complex problem. That means, the main task is not to colonize Mars, but the hope is, that the IHMC group, and the MIT Locomotion group will improve their programming skills. The SRC is part of a larger program, called “NASA Centennial Challenges”, which has the aim to engage the public (which are US-universities) in advanced technology development, for example in a 3d printed habitat, building small satellites and tissue engineering.