NEXT STOP: MARS

IT'S BEEN 20 YEARS SINCE A U.S. SPACECRAFT VISITED THE RED PLANET. NOW A FLEET IS POISED TO TAKE OFF

Time was, Mars was a busy place. Everybody, it seemed--or at least everybody at NASA--wanted to fling something the Red Planet's way. First there were Mariner probes whizzing through the Martian neighborhood, then Mariner probes orbiting the planet. Next there was a Viking probe that actually landed on the surface, and another followed a few months later. Before long, so the thinking went, the unmanned probes would have surveyed the whole planet, and the manned missions could at last begin.

But before long never came. As the nation's interest in space travel waned in the post-Apollo years, Washington's willingness to bankroll...

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