When Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was looking to name the site where the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars in August, ‘Bradbury Landing’ must have been an obvious choice. Ray Bradbury, who died in June, was a regular visitor to JPL. He wrote his first Martian stories in Los Angeles just a few months after the lab was founded in Pasadena in 1943. As a teenager in 1939, he had attended a meeting of the LA Science Fiction Society where he listened to the self-taught rocketeer Jack Parsons, one of the leading lights of the group that would become JPL. A devotee of Alesteir Crowley, Parsons carried out experiments in ceremonial sex magic as well as solid-fuel rocketry. He was killed in 1952 when he dropped a coffee can with mercury fulminate in it, blowing up his house. There’s an impact crater named after him on the dark side of the Moon.
From James Hamilton-Paterson's review of Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination and the Birth of a World by Oliver Morton (LRB, 22 August 2002): Morton’s account of the mapping of Mars and his history of the scientific imagination and effort that has been expended trying to understand Martian geology – crucial to assessing the likelihood of life there – would itself have been enough to carry this book. He finds something old-fashioned about the mapping, despite the dazzling technology that makes it possible, because it is politically disinterested in a way that has never been possible when mapping Earth. Yet we also know, without needing it to be spelled out, that in some sense Mars has already become an American planet.