NASA has awarded Lockheed Martin a contract to build a lightweight rocket designed to carry samples from the surface of Mars back Earth. The Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) will be part of the NASA’s Mars Sample Return program, which is working to retrieve rock, sediment and atmospheric samples collected by the agency’s Perseverance rover. If successful, the MAV will become the first rocket launched off of another planet.
“This groundbreaking endeavor is destined to inspire the world when the first robotic round-trip mission retrieves a sample from another planet—a significant step that will ultimately help send the first astronauts to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “America’s investment in our Mars Sample Return program will fulfill a top priority planetary science goal and demonstrate our commitment to global partnerships, ensuring NASA remains a leader in exploration and discovery.”
The Mars Ascent Vehicle Integrated System (MAVIS) cost-plus-fixed-fee contract is valued at up to $194 million. It is set to begin no later than Feb. 25 and cover six years. The MAV project is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
There are a few “fact based” videos on YouTube that list the very serious issues involved with manned flights to Mars, not the least of which is dealing with cosmic radiation since neither spacecraft nor Mars have a magnetic field for protection as here on earth. This all machine approach is really the only practical exploration option. But be assured it will cost more than the listed budget of $194 million.