MarsDrive Consortium (MDC, of which I am a member) has announced a Mars sample return mission design contest. The contest requires the design of an unmanned mission that would (1) place a scientific payload on the surface of Mars, (2) collect geological and astrobiological samples, and (3) use local Martian resources to produce propellent (methane, LOX) sufficient to allow the collected samples to leave the surface and return to Earth orbit.
Abstract submission is summer 2006, with design submission in fall 2006, and announcement of winners in winter 2007. A distinguished panel of experts will be involved in evaluating and selecting from the submissions, including Dr. Chris McKay (Planetary Scientist, NASA Ames Research Center), Dr. Robert Zubrin (President, The Mars Society), and Louis Friedman (Executive Director, The Planetary Society). Prizes will include cash and an expense-paid trip to the ISDC 2007 conference.
I think this is a great way to promote interest in a Mars sample return mission and to raise awareness and promote research on in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) for the production of sample-return fuel and oxidizer. ISRU is a key component in learning to "live off the land" as will be required in future manned missions to Mars.