The NASA Robotic Mining Competition is an annual competition held at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Florida. The competition is held in mid to late May. Typically forty universities from the United States participate.
The goal of the competition is to design, build and compete with a robot that can move fine powdery material called regolith. This material serves as a simulant for the material found on Mars. The robots are to move as much as possible from one end of the arena to the other in a ten minute period. The robots have to fit within constraints outlined in the rules. Examples of this are fitting into a 0.75×0.75×1.5 m box upon deployment. The robot must weigh less than 80kg. Total weight counts against other points scored.
The purpose of this competition lies in what you would want to mine on Mars. For right now what is important is water. Below the surface of mars lies water in the form of ice. Though it would be tempting to think that the ice would be used for drinking water, it is really needed for rocket fuel. Before humans can be sent to Mars, enough fuel needs to be collected to return them safely from Mars to earth. The way that this would need to be done is by a robot, slowly collecting the icy gravel rock by rock. Solar panels would then generate the electricity necessary to split the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen and thus rocket fuel.
Rules and information can be found here.