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Von Braun at his desk at the Marshall Space Flight Center in 1960, years after writing Project Mars. (NASA)

Wernher von Braun, Novelist

Half a century ago, the rocket scientist tried his hand at fiction.

Calling to Billingsley in the compartment behind him, Holt suggested a little sally to the placid Briton.

“Quite so.. Might be rather fun, you know,” came back the imperturbable voice.

Slipping on their pressure helmets, they airlocked themselves out into the wet snow and took a tall ladder from the loaded trailer. Dragging it behind them, they approached the curving wall with the floating step which characterized the light Martian weights of their bodies. Holt drew a heavy knife from his belt and scratched at the strange material.

“Harder than concrete,” he remarked with a shake of his head.

They pushed the ladder carefully up the sloping surface before them and mounted to a point at which the angle was flat enough to prevent their slipping on the roof itself. As they reached the mysterious line, the waiting crews saw them throw themselves down with their heads just across it, gazing fixedly at the surface.

What they saw took away their breath, for the whole upper part of the roof was of transparent, glass-like material! Below it was a huge engine room, reminiscent of a giant terrestrial power plant! They counted fourteen huge, circular, red-painted shapes, neatly ranged within the silver-glittering hall!
“Pumps, or I’m a Chinaman!” said Holt after getting his breath again. “Old man Hansen was right…”
“And your Percival Lowell, God rest his soul,” chimed in Billingsley.

Holt pressed his helmet to the glass.

“Feel it? The machinery’s running.”
“Look, old fellow,” grunted Billingsley, “I’m sure I just saw one of their chaps running about down there.”
A diminutive, dark-haired figure of human bearing and carriage was walking down the length of the great room. He stopped and inspected one pump after another as he gradually approached the spot above which they kept their watch.

The Martian wore a white garment reminiscent of a Japanese kimono with multi-colored ornamentation. The man, for no other name could be applied to him, was beardless. His face was swarthy, with warm and friendly eyes and delicate features. His arms and legs showed nothing different from those of homo sapiens, as exemplified by the quaking observers on the transparent roof.

“Almighty God must have found that our species has some good points, if He chooses to plant something so much like us on Mars,” meditated Holt.

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