Last month, NASA confirmed that it had found the best-ever evidence that there’s water on Mars. Observations published in the journal Nature found that the dark streaks that appear and vanish seasonally on Mars are made of salty water. The discovery was no doubt a major scientific breakthrough, and for Marillyn Hewson, president, chairman, and chief executive officer of defense contractor Lockheed Martin, the finding was also a chance to tout her company’s commitment to the exploration of the planet.
On stage at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Hewson said that the company is “in the midst of supporting the efforts to Mars. You saw the most recent discovery of water. We were participating in that as well with our probes and things that we have provided.”
When asked if Mars represents a true business opportunity, Hewson, No. 4 on this year’s Most Powerful Women list, gave a definitive answer: “Yes, absolutely. ”
Indeed, Lockheed Martin has been a part of every NASA mission to Mars, according to a company spokeswoman. It’s manufactured all three of the NASA spacecraft that are currently orbiting Mars, including the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which identified the presence of liquid on the planet’s surface and was launched into space in August 2005. Lockheed currently operates the Orbiter on behalf of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory from the company’s space systems facility in Denver. Instruments and sensors designed by several universities and companies helped scientists discover the water on Mars’ surface; Lockheed Martin manufactured the spacecraft and helped to integrate those tools.
The Bethesda, Maryland-based company is also in the final stages of assembling and testing NASA’s next Mars lander, which is called InSight and will launch in March 2016. InSight’s mission is to dig into the surface of Mars with the hope of finding clues that explain the evolutionary processes that shaped the planets of the inner solar system.
While the company’s work on Mars’ mission is high-profile and—in some instances—history-making, it also comes with a downside: long lead times. During the on-stage interview, Fortune senior editor Jennifer Reingold asked Hewson if the company’s investors support the time frame involved in its Mars projects.
“Our investors value us for us being a high technology company,” Hewson said, “And the things that we focus on … not only help governments to protect citizens but also how we can take our satellites and launch vehicles to other parts of the world and bring back that capability to the U.S.”
About 80% of Lockheed Martin’s sales are to the United States government. It’s probably best known as a contractor for the Department of Defense, but it also serves civil agencies like NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security.