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The moon, when we got there, turned out to be a dead place from which the living earth looked wonderful. Mars, when our robots got there, seemed disconcertingly like the moon, without the compensating view: none of the primitive plants suspected by scientists; no imperial canals like those of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom stories. Just dust.

The original architects of the space age saw Mars as the obvious next destination beyond the moon, a challenge which would require fleets of spacecraft and, later, research stations, settlements, even colonies far from the earth. There were many practical and (above all) political…

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