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LITTLETON, Colo. (KDVR) — One of Colorado’s largest employers will be responsible for bringing the first samples from Mars to Earth.

NASA awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to build a small, lightweight rocket to launch samples of rock, sediment and atmosphere from Mars back to Earth.

In a press release, NASA said this is a critical step closer to bringing samples of the red planet back to Earth through a round trip.

“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,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “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.”

If successful, the project would be the first time a rocket was launched on another planet and the first time humans have brought samples from another planet to Earth. NASA’s Perseverance rover has been collecting samples on Mars since it landed in early 2021.