As Mars readies for its close-up on Aug. 27, , the Red Planet has already garnered a growing fan base of casual sky watchers eager to see new details during the planet’s closest swing-by in 60,000 years. But as Mars beams steadily brighter in the southeastern sky, it is more than a curiosity for members of the Mars Society. For this eclectic band of scientists and wishful thinkers, it also shines as a beacon of a dream: One day men and women will walk on Mars. And at the nexus of this group, which convened last weekend in Eugene, is an unlikely Pied Piper: University of Washington-trained nuclear engineer Robert Zubrin. He is the spiritual father of the dream of sending humans to Mars the way the late astronomer Carl Sagan was the Mr. Rogers of the cosmic neighborhood.