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Saturday & SUNDAY

Aside from the few nutjobs who deride NASA as a way of sneaking into heaven, most folks find the concept of space exploration pretty intriguing. But with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs’ having fulfilled President Kennedy’s then-exceedingly-optimistic promise to drop a man on the moon, there really hasn’t been all that much to be interested in for a while. Indeed, over the first decade of a concerted American effort to explore the firmament, we made more lay-tangible progress than in the next three. Of course, we did have the specter of communist competition pushing our every move then. Since the astronauts of Apollo 11 claimed the moon for capitalism, the U.S. space program’s growth has been stunted. Sure, when there’s not an accident, we manage to get a ginormous piece of expensive 1970s hardware into orbit on some construction mission every few months. But c’mon, name one couch potato who’s stoked for the next Maytag-repairman trip up. In January 2004, President Bush tried to make a Kennedyesque statement by announcing that maybe someday America might land a person on Mars. Great. If it does happen, you can bet he or she will be with Halliburton and will come complete with a surgically implanted oil drill. Wally Schirra wouldn’t settle for this shit. He and his Mercury 7 buddies calmly rode into space aboard what was little more than an experiment. Ask his co-writer, Ed Buckbee (pictured), how to fix our broken space program when he reads from The Real Space Cowboys at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 30, and Sunday, July 31, at the National Air and Space Museum, 7th Street and Independence Avenue SW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Mike Kanin)