Mars Spectrometry: Detect Evidence for Past Habitability

Help NASA scientists identify the chemical composition of rock and soil samples for Mars planetary science. #science

$30,000 in prizes
apr 2022
714 joined



Did Mars ever have livable environmental conditions? This is one of the key questions in the field of planetary science. Answering it will not only inform our expectations about whether there is or has been livable conditions elsewhere in the universe, but it can also help us better understand how and why life developed on Earth.

NASA missions like the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers carry a rich array of instruments suited to collect data and build evidence towards answering this question. One particularly powerful capability they have is collecting rock and soil samples and taking measurements that can be used to determine their chemical makeup. These chemical characteristics can indicate whether the environment had livable conditions in the past.

While sending these complex robots and their delicate instruments over 500 million kilometers through space and landing them autonomously on Mars are awe-inspiring feats of engineering, the challenges do not stop there. Communication between rovers and Earth is severely constrained, with limited transfer rates and short daily communication windows. When scientists on Earth receive sample data from the rover, they must rapidly analyze them and make difficult inferences about the chemistry in order to prioritize the next operations and send those instructions back to the rover.

Improving methods for analyzing planetary data will help scientists more quickly and effectively conduct mission operations and maximize scientific learnings. The longer-term goal, in the future, would be to deploy sufficiently powerful methods onboard rovers to autonomously guide science operations and reduce reliance on a "ground-in-the-loop" control operations model.


In this challenge, your goal is to build a model to automatically analyze mass spectrometry data collected for Mars exploration in order to help scientists in their analysis of understanding the past habitability of Mars.

Specifically, the model should detect the presence of certain families of chemical compounds in data collected from performing evolved gas analysis (EGA) on a set of analog samples. The winning techniques may be used to help analyze data from Mars, and potentially even inform future designs for planetary mission instruments performing in-situ analysis. In other words, one day your model might literally be out-of-this-world!

Some additional notes:

  • Understanding the data. The mass spectrometry data used in this competition can require specialist knowledge to interpret. See the Problem Description page for discussion of the data that may inform your data processing and feature engineering. If you have questions, please feel welcome to ask on the community forum.

  • External data use. As noted in the Challenge Rules, external data and pre-trained models are allowed in this competition as long as they are freely and publicly available with permissive open licensing. Note that many mass spectral reference libraries, including those from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), are not available with open licensing and therefore not allowed in the competition. If you are using any external datasets or pre-trained models, you are required to publicly share about them in the competition discussion forum in order to be eligible for a prize. If you have any questions, please ask on the forum.

  • Research nature. A focus of this challenge is to feature a new dataset for research and to engage planetary geologists, analytical chemists, and data scientists in working with it. As with any research dataset like this one, initial algorithms may pick up on correlations that are incidental to the task. Solutions in this challenge are intended to serve as a starting point for continued research and development. The challenge organizers intend to make the data available online after the competition for ongoing improvement.

Timeline and Prizes

Competition End Date:

April 18, 2022, 11:59 p.m. UTC

Place Prize Amount
1st $15,000
2nd $7,500
3rd $5,000
Bonus $2,500

Bonus Prize: SAM Testbed Modeling Methodology

A subset of the test data for this competition comes from the SAM testbed, a replica of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite onboard the Curiosity rover. The top five participants ranked by performance on just the SAM testbed samples will be invited to submit a brief write-up of their methodology. A judging panel of subject matter experts will review the finalists' write-ups and select a winner based on their solution's technical merits and its potential to be applied to future data.


The competition will have two phases with a timed release of additional labels that can be used for training. See the Problem Description page for more details about the dataset splits.

  • Phase 1: Development – February 18–March 17, 2022
  • Phase 2: Final Training – March 18–April 18, 2022 (Validation set labels released)

How to compete

  1. Click the “Compete” button in the sidebar to enroll in the competition
  2. Get familiar with the problem through the overview and problem description. You might also want to reference some of the additional resources from the about page.
  3. Download the data from the data tab
  4. Create and train your own model. The benchmark blog post is a good place to start
  5. Use your model to generate predictions that match the submission format
  6. Click “Submit” in the sidebar, and “Make new submission”. You’re in!

Note on prize eligibility

NASA Employees are prohibited by Federal statutes and regulations from receiving an award under this Challenge. NASA Employees are still encouraged to submit a solution. If you are a NASA Employee and wish to submit a solution please contact who will connect you with the NASA Challenge owner. If your solution meets the requirements of the Challenge, any attributable information will be removed from your submission and your solution will be evaluated with other solutions found to meet the Challenge criteria. Based on your solution, you may be eligible for an award under the NASA Awards and Recognition Program or other Government Award and Recognition Program if you meet the criteria of both this Challenge and the applicable Awards and Recognition Program.

If you are an Employee of another Federal Agency, contact your Agency's Office of General Counsel regarding your ability to participate in this Challenge.

If you are a Government contractor or are employed by one, your participation in this challenge may also be restricted. If you are or your employer is receiving Government funding for similar projects, you or your employer are not eligible for award under this Challenge. Additionally, the U.S. Government may have Intellectual Property Rights in your solution if your solution was made under a Government Contract, Grant or Cooperative Agreement. Under such conditions, you may not be eligible for award.

This challenge is in collaboration with NASA.

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.