NASA to make Mars rover smarter

Artificial intelligence plays a large part in NASA's plans over the next

two decades, meaning that future Mars rovers may have a mind of their own.

The space agency expects to spend about $500 million over the next 12

years on information technology research and development, according to NASA

officials who detailed the space agency's plan for future Mars exploration.

Orbiters, landers and rover vehicles are among the plans that Firouz

Naderi, Mars program manager, outlined on Thursday.

But future rovers traversing the Martian terrain will not maneuver according

to step-by-step instructions by engineers, Naderi said. Instead, they will

make their own decisions to carry out an order sent from Earth.

"Now we send a sequence of instructional actions for the rover to take,"

he said. "If we want it to go over to the TV, we would instruct it to go

forward two feet, go right, etc."

With artificial intelligence, Naderi said they could direct the rover

to "go to the TV" and the rover would be know what to do.

The agency also intends to develop sensors enabling spacecraft to recognize

safe landing areas. This will enable scientists and engineers to select

smaller but potentially more important regions of the planet for rover missions,

the officials said.

Next year's 2001 Mars Odyssey mission begins a series of science and

research-based operations that will lay the foundation for a mission to

retrieve Martian rock and soil samples, said Edward Weiler, associate administrator

for the Office of Science at NASA headquarters.

That mission is slated to occur around 2014, he said.

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