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At the government testing grounds at White Sands, New Mexico, research scientist Dr. Fleming holds a press conference to announce the imminent launch of the first manned spaceship, the R X-M, or Rocketship Expedition Moon. He introduces the crew: Dr. Karl Eckstrom, designer of the space craft; chemist Dr. Lisa Van Horn; pilot Col. Floyd Graham; astronomer Harry Chamberlin, who will serve as navigator; and engineer Major William Corrigan. Karl presents the flight plan and explains they plan to reach the moon in forty-eight hours. After the rocketship is launched, the crew members marvel at the sight of planet Earth as they leave its orbit. Fourteen hours into the flight, however, the ship loses power, and Karl insists on altering the fuel mixture. Later, as the rest of the crew sleeps, Floyd tries to interest Lisa in romance, but a sudden meteor shower breaks the mood. After some mechanical adjustments, the new fuel ratio is tested and the ship accelerates rapidly, moving completely off course. Karl is astonished to discover that the ship is approaching Mars. After landing, the crew members leave the ship and begin to investigate the arid planet and its colorful rock formations. They come across part of a metal statue covered in sand, suggesting the presence of man on the planet at one time, and their instruments detect high levels of radioactivity. After commenting on man's tendency toward self-destruction, Karl concludes that the planet's entire population was wiped out in an atomic blast. While the others are asleep, however, Harry sees a group of men emerge from the rocks. Karl and William set out to investigate, and they soon discover a mutant race of humans, apparently the survivors of the atomic blast that devastated the planet. The creatures attack them with rocks, and William is killed. Badly injured, Karl makes it back to the ship and after telling his crewmates to report what they have seen, collapses and dies. The mutants then attack the remaining crew members, but Floyd and Lisa escape to the rocketship with the injured Harry and leave Mars. On the ship, Lisa discovers that they do not have enough fuel for a landing. Determined to see that their tragic mission was not in vain, Floyd and Lisa contact Dr. Fleming on the radio and tell him what has happened. As they plummet to their death, Floyd and Lisa embrace. Later, Dr. Fleming meets with reporters and maintains that the expedition was not a failure, and that construction of the next rocketship will begin tomorrow.