Assuming they can get their act together, NASA engineers project that we'll have a human on Mars by the year 2020, which is when the painstakingly researched sci-fi flick, Mission to Mars, takes place. Playing on our worst hopes and fears about Martians and outer space, the film sees to it that something indescribable happens to the first crew on Mars, requiring a second team to rocket up and solve the mystery. Expect lots of 2001: A Space Odyssey references--it's directed by Brian De Palma, a man who plagiarizes freely and liberally (i.e., the Welles tribute in Snake Eyes and the Eisenstein rip-off in The Untouchables). While it's De Palma's first foray into the world of cinematic sci-fi, he's a science freak from way back, winning prizes as a teenager for projects in cybernetics in the National Science Fair two years in a row. That's nothing compared to the big brains that consulted and advised the filmmakers. NASA engineers were very gracious in making sure things were looking realistic and plausible and most of the details were drawn straight out of former Lockheed Martin senior engineer Robert Zubrin's book The Case for Mars, which contains specific proposals on how to get to the fourth rock from the sun. So if the photos beamed back from the Pathfinder nonplused you, check out the visuals on this baby. See "Opening Friday" for theaters and times.