Lockheed Martin’s Hewson Gives Manned Mission to Mars a Shot

As head of the aerospace giant, Marillyn Hewson oversees efforts to build a spacecraft that will ferry astronauts to and from Mars.


In the recent movie The Martian, resourceful astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) makes good on his vow to “science the shit out of” Mars after he finds himself stranded there in the year 2035. Marillyn Hewson could probably teach him a thing or two about ingenuity. The chair, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. has embarked on her own Mars mission: making science fiction a reality by helping to land people on the red planet’s rocky soil — and to bring them home safely.

“We’re very much engaged with our technology in advanced discovery,” Hewson, whom Fortune magazine named the fourth most powerful woman of 2015, said at the recent Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington.

The world’s largest defense contractor, Lockheed enjoys a head start in the potentially lucrative race to send humans to Mars, which has gained new urgency since September, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration confirmed the presence of liquid water near the planet’s surface. Bethesda, Maryland–based Lockheed built the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that identified those briny flows. In February the aerospace giant announced the completion of the first unmanned test flight of its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, a deep-space capsule designed for NASA to shuttle earthlings to Mars and back. With Lockheed’s help, NASA hopes to send astronauts on this journey within the next 25 years.

Hewson, 61, who also serves as vice chair of the Arlington, Virginia–based Aerospace Industries Association, believes space exploration is an excellent business opportunity. Lockheed’s Space Systems Co. division generated $8.1 billion in net sales for fiscal 2014, up from $8 billion in 2013, when she took over as CEO. U.S. government agencies, including NASA and the Department of Defense, accounted for about 97 percent of that total.

Lockheed has participated in every NASA mission to Mars, starting in 1964, when Mariner 4, the spacecraft that took the first up-close images of Earth’s neighbor, was ferried out by a Lockheed rocket. Seven years later Lockheed supplied the rocket that propelled Mariner 9, the first craft to orbit Mars; in 1976 two of its Viking landers became the first vehicles to touch down on the planet.

Hewson will be a formidable adversary as Lockheed competes with Mars-fixated rivals from around the world, most notably SpaceX, founded by billionaire Elon Musk. Since she became CEO in 2013, having joined the company as an electrical engineer in 1983 and held positions including president and COO and head of its electronic systems business, Lockheed’s market capitalization has more than doubled, to $68.8 billion. Its stock has gained some 140 percent in the past three years, closing at $226 on November 23.


Lockheed is in the final stages of testing the InSight lander, assembled for NASA and set to lift off in March 2016, which will dig deeper into the Martian surface than any past visitor to learn how terrestrial planets formed in the inner solar system. If Hewson has her way, it’s only a matter of time before people replace robotic explorers. Mark Watney would approve.