In 1962, NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center kicked off the EMPIRE (Early Manned Planetary Interplanetary Roundtrip Expeditions) studies. This was a preliminary examination of manned missions to other planets, mostly looking at Mars, with Venus flyby and orbital missions as well.
Contracts went to General Dynamics, Lockheed and the Aeroneutronic Division of Ford. Yes, Ford, the car company: at the time, rather than the American aerospace industry being so tightly contracted that there were only a handful of players, the industry was so lively and vast that *car* companies were doing good business in aerospace (Chrysler built the Redstone rocket, the first stage of the Saturn I and even proposed an SSTO for the Shuttle program).
General Dynamics/Convair produced the best known of the resulting studies. With much of the work overseen by Krafft Ehricke, there was a distinct sense of enthusiasm to it; much of the results of the EMPIRE study crossed departments and ended up in General Atomics Project Orion work. One portion of the EMPIRE design that Orion adopted was the manned Mars Excusion Module (MEM).
In configuration the lander looked much like an Apollo Command & (shortened) Service Module with three landing legs. instead of a conventional parachute, it used a metal ring that was to serve much the same purpose. The Mercury-like “Abort Tower” was to be used at liftoff; it would drag the ascent vehicle up far enough that ignition of the main engine would not through debris around that could strike and damage the ascent vehicle.
Sadly, this design was produce before the Mariner 4 probe flew by Mars . The data sent back by Mariner 4 showed that the atmosphere of mars was more than an order of magnitude thinner than had been expected, with the result that aerodynamic braking would be far more difficult. Thus, this design simply would not have worked on Mars; it would have slammed into the ground at high speed.