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Spacemen Going to Mars

September 21, 1989

MARS, Pa. (AP) _ It’s official. U.S. and Soviet spacemen are going to Mars, and the Martians can’t wait to greet them.

That’s Mars, Pa. 16046. U.S.A. Earth.

Soviet Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev arrives in Mars on Monday, by jetliner and car, for an eight-day visit to this community of about 1,800 humanoids about 25 miles north of Pittsburgh.

Krikalev, 31, a flight engineer, spent five months on a Soviet-French Soyuz mission that ended in April. He will be joined Wednesday by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mario Runco Jr., 37, a NASA astronaut who is awaiting assignment to a space shuttle flight.

The spacemen’s mission is to teach Martian children about space and Soviet- American friendship at school lunches and assemblies.

Organizers say it’s just like Martians, as some residents call themselves, to do something spacey like this.

″It just seems natural when you live close to Mars. People here have a lot of pride that our town is named after a planet,″ said Bonnie Solino, mother of a 13-year-old boy and the first Martian to invite spacemen to this sector of the solar system.

″Frankly, I’m a little perplexed by all this, but then I’m originally from the New York City area,″ she admitted Thursday.

Ralph Terrell, a retired chemist and chairman of the Mars Area Foundation for Educational Excellence, a private group organizing the event for the school district, said Thursday you have to have a sense of humor to live in Mars.

″The school team is called the Mars Planets. We have the Mars National Bank that gives service out of this world. There’s an undercurrent, but nobody had really glorified it until we stumbled upon this,″ Terrell said.

″I’m even thinking of having cards printed up that say, ’I talked to a Martian today,‴ he said.

About 5,000 ″Mission to Mars″ stickers, which show the American eagle and Soviet bear below the tail of a comet, are to be sold at an open house in the Mars Middle School Sept. 28, when Runco and Krikalev are scheduled to appear to together.

″Things are happening almost by the hour. I’ve ordered another 1,000 stickers,″ Terrell said.

Martians already have purchased about 1,300 lapel pins with the American and Soviet flags, an item Mrs. Solino said ″has taken off tremendously.″

Terrell said the Mars History and Landmarks Society plans to place a 10- foot steel flying saucer in a downtown lot before a Wednesday photo session. The makeshift spaceship is being built out of drum lids, he said.

Organizers plan to treat the cosmonaut to a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game on Tuesday night and a Mars Area High School football game next Saturday. Runco can stay only two days.

Terrell said there are no plans for side trips to nearby Moon or Apollo townships.

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