Making Rocket Fuel on Mars (1978) Wired

In the late 1970s, through the initiative of its director, Bruce Murray, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) studied a range of possible Mars missions, including Mars Sample Return (MSR). Murray and others at the Pasadena, California-based lab were aware that funds for new Mars missions would be hard to come by; the U.S. economy was under strain and NASA, JPL’s main customer, was devoting most of its resources to developing the Space Shuttle. In addition, equivocal data from the astrobiology experiments on the twin Vikings, the first successful Mars landers, had damped public enthusiasm for the Red Planet. Would-be Mars explorers reasoned that, if an MSR mission would stand a chance of acceptance, then they would need to find technologies and techniques that could dramatically trim its anticipated cost.