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Lockheed Martin to Build Rocket That Will Carry the First Pieces of Mars Back to Earth

NASA has awarded Lockheed Martin a $194 million contract to develop the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) – a rocket designed will carry the first "rock, sediment, and atmospheric samples" from Mars to our home. The MAV is will be part of a multi-mission campaign and is set to return pieces of the Red Planet in the 2030s.
Illustration of NASA's MAV being launched from the surface of the Red Planet 7 photos
Illustration of machines that will be used for the Mars Sample Return missionMAV illustrationMAV illustrationMarsNASA's Perseverance rover gearing up to drill into the rock at the center of this imageNASA Perseverance rover sample tube
NASA's Perseverance rover has been busy drilling into Mars' rocks for the past few months, overcoming any challenges the harsh environment throws at it. The Mars Sample Return mission aims to bring pieces of the alien world stored by the rover in its belly back to Earth. Here, scientists could study them using advanced lab equipment, which would be too big to carry the Red Planet.

It will take nearly a decade to get the samples into terrestrial labs, and for that to happen, the mission requires an effort from multiple European partners and NASA centers. The MAV will play a crucial role in the campaign as it is set to become the first rocket that will blast off from another planet's surface.

According to NASA, the rocket will work together with the agency's Sample Retrieval Lander, the European Space Agency (ESA) Sample Fetch Rover, and the Earth Return Orbiter to return the samples back to Earth.

The lander is scheduled to take off in 2026 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida together with the MAV and a small ESA machine called the Sample Fetch Rover. Once it touches down near or in the Jezero Crater on Mars, the rover would retrieve the samples left behind by Perseverance.

The samples would then be returned to the lander and loaded inside a sample container located in the MAV. The lander will function as the rocket's launch platform. Once in Mars orbit, MAV would meet with the orbiter, which will catch the container and then head to Earth.

The samples are expected to reach Earth in the 2030s. It's a complex mission, and Lockheed Martin must make sure that the MAV can overcome any challenge. First, the rocket will have to be small enough to fit inside the lander. Then, the team has to ensure that the vehicle is capable of withstanding the harsh environment on Mars and that it is able to work with other spacecraft.

This will be the first mission to return samples from another world, and it will include the first launch from another planet's surface. The pieces gathered by Perseverance could reveal important clues about Mars' past, showing if there was once life on our neighbor.

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