Two decades ago, TIME thought that a manned mission to Mars would be just around the corner. While such a plan hasn’t yet come to fruition, TIME’s cover story was correct in capturing the surging interest in the red planet. Politicians and scientists at home and abroad were becoming increasingly fascinated with Mars and wondered what secrets it held.
A manned trip to Mars, long the stuff of science fiction, now appears to be just a matter of time. The mystic planet, glowing red and ever brighter in the night skies, is heading toward its closest approach to the earth in 17 years this September, tantalizingly near and beckoning. After a hiatus of a dozen years, during which neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union mounted missions to & Mars, a spacecraft is once again on its way, opening a new era in the exploration of the earth’s closest planetary neighbor.