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Mars, the planet, is not the selling point it once was. Edgar Rice Burroughs' turn-of-the-twentieth tales about John Carter and the red planet Barsoom" satiated the appetites of young Americans hungry for stories about space. Today, movies about space--like "John Carter," "Prometheus," "Mars Needs Moms," "Apollo 18"--are commercial flops. Perhaps it's the economy; space travel feels downright irresponsible at a time of record deficits. Or maybe the lack of interest in our planetary cousins is due to the fact that no fantasized-about alien technology can compete with what's currently available at the Apple store. Regardless of the root of our disinterest, the Smithsonian is not giving up its quest for our attention. At Mars Day!, visitors young and old can talk to people whose job it is to plot future human missions to the red planet and monitor the travel of Curiosity, the rover being sent to replace Spirit and Opportunity (may they rest in pieces).Friday July 13 at the National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave. SW. Phone: 202/633-1000. Web:

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