By Jeff Perlah -

For the past two years, the members of Styx have had Mars on their minds. Audiences might not have known it, but when the chart-topping rock/prog group changed the “walk-on” music at their concerts, to the instrumental piece “Overture,” they were thinking it would make a good leadoff track for The Mission, their first new studio album in 14 years.

Released last month (and landing at No. 6 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart), the adventurous concept album tells the story of a first manned mission to Mars. A six-person crew makes the trip in 2033, while aboard a nuclear-powered spaceship called Khedive.

“There’s going to be human beings that strap themselves into that rocket and blast off to the unknown and maybe never return,” Styx guitarist and vocalist Tommy Shaw tells Newsweek. “They’re leaving everything and everyone behind. To me, that was the story that Styx could tell.”

The album’s interplanetary theme, especially its human factor, kicks into high gear during the second track, the bluesy hard-rocker “Locomotive.” “I saw it as this is the guy’s dad who’s standing on the shore looking up into the starry sky, and his son has gone on this mission to Mars. They never got back together and got over the rift between them. Now he’s looking up at the stars and going, ‘Are you out there? I’m trying to get a message to you.’”

Also providing inspiration for The Mission was the band’s real-life connection to another planet, Pluto, and its smallest moon, Styx, which was discovered in 2012. Three years after the spotting of Styx by the Hubble Space Telescope, the unmanned space probe New Horizons flew by Pluto and took some eye-popping photos. In July 2015, Shaw, singer/keyboardist Lawrence Gowan and drummer Todd Sucherman viewed those photos when they met members of NASA’s Horizon team in Maryland. The moon wasn’t named after the band, but the name choice certainly had Shaw and his bandmates stoked about the meeting.

“They’ve helped us as a resource, and they helped in refining the [Mission] story and feel comfortable with it,” Shaw says. “Since then, we’ve become friends with other people at NASA, so we’ve realized we’ve got Styx fans that are grown up and in these incredible positions now.”