Mars and Stars weekend At noon on July 4, NASA's Pathfinder lands on Mars. Today through July 6, the Burke-Baker Planetarium celebrates with a slew of Red Planet activities for your little space cadet. Among them: the new Destination Mars! planetarium show; a meteorite you can touch; Pathfinder live feeds from NASA-TV; and a 3-D display of Mars volcanoes and canyons. Museum hours 9 a.m.6 p.m. today; planetarium show every hour, 11 a.m.6 p.m. At the Burke-Baker Planetarium, Houston Museum of Natural Science, One Hermann Circle Drive (in Hermann Park), 639-IMAX, www.hmns.org. $3 adults, $2 kids under 12.
A lawn chair and 45 weather balloons A very American story: In 1982, California truck driver Larry Walters attached 45 weather balloons to a lawn chair and ascended to 16,000 feet, where he was spotted by passing jet pilots. Cold and scared, he shot some of the balloons with his pellet gun, then crashed into a power line, briefly blacking out part of Long Beach. "It was something I had to do," he told reporters. Afterward, he went on the Letterman show and for a while made a living as a motivational speaker. Then, 11 years after his flight, he committed suicide. Tonight 25-year-old Richie Budd salutes Walters. Tethered to the ground by a shoestring, Budd will sit in a balloon-boosted lawn chair, sipping beer and watching Fourth of July fireworks. Gallery patrons (this is performance art) can watch Budd both from the rooftop and on closed-circuit TV. God bless the U.S.A. 7 p.m.midnight; in case of heavy rain, the takeoff will be rescheduled for Saturday, July 5. Revolution Summer, 1215 Marconi, 521-7564. Free.
Watermelon Fest and Ice Cream Crank-Off Galveston's Moody Gardens adds Fourth of July bonuses to its usual attractions (you remember those: IMAX, the Rain Forest Pyramid, the space-related Discovery Pyramid, the kiddie-pool nirvana of Palm Beach). This afternoon, ice-cream aficionados will compete to produce the finest of frozen treats; visitors will get to sample, and celebrity judges will decide who wins a trip to Washington, D.C. Flags are free to kids, big slices of watermelon will go for $1, and there'll be sack races, seed-spitting contests and other silly old-fashioned games. Plants will be sold for $2$10; all proceeds will benefit Hope Therapy, which allows people with disabilities to work with horses and plants. At 6 p.m., Dr. Ken Dye's Concert Band plays patriotic tunes -- leaving time for you to grab dinner and wander down to the Strand to watch Galveston's fireworks (the show starts at 9:15 p.m., around 37th Street). The Watermelon Fest and Ice Cream Crank-Off runs 3 to 7 p.m. Moody Gardens, One Hope Boulevard, Galveston, (800) 582-4673. Free to attend the fest; other Moody Gardens attractions cost $6 each.
Houston Symphony As always, the Symphony provides a patriotic prelude to fireworks. Tonight's outdoor program, conducted by Stephen Stein, includes all the old standbys: "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Stars and Stripes Forever" and "The 1812 Overture," complete with cannons. 8:30 p.m. Miller Outdoor Theatre, Hermann Park, 520-3290. Free.
AstroWorld fireworks Yes, you can see these pyrotechnics from all over town -- but the very best viewing, says a Six Flags AstroWorld spokesman, is from AstroWorld's Southern Star Amphitheatre. And what more American way to spend a day than riding roller coasters, eating hot dogs and drinking overpriced Cokes? Park opens at 10 a.m. Fireworks at 10 p.m. AstroWorld, 9001 Kirby, 799-1234. $31.95, 48" and taller; $20.95, under 48 inches; two and under, free.
Houston Freedom Festival The outdoor mega-party focuses mostly on music: Miss Frances and the Rhythm Fish play at 4:45 p.m.; Dale Nowak and the Young Country Band at 5:45; the Norma Zenteno Band at 7; and country star Mark Chesnutt at 8:15. Fireworks begin at 9:45, and the traffic jam starts soon after. In Buffalo Bayou Park; parking available in the Theater District parking garage. Free, but this year a pass is required. Get it at your neighborhood Diamond Shamrock or Stop N Go.
Tri-Star Collectors Show Nostalgic for the era before baseball cards became big business? Oddly, so is Tri-Star, which bills itself as "America's Premier Producer of Sports Collectible Shows!" Today's blowout, held at a soulless hotel rather than a soulless convention center, is supposed to "turn back the clock to the golden years of the hobby, when shows had more of a local, intimate feel." Big-name athletes (NFL running backs Emmitt Smith and Thurman Thomas, as well as the Rockets' Eddie Johnson) will sign autographs for a price. And hometown up-and-comers (Rockets Othella Harrington and Randy Livingston, Astros Billy Wagner and Brad Ausmus) will sign for free -- just like in the good old days. 10 a.m.5 p.m. today; Sunday 10 a.m.4 p.m. At the Ramada Astrodome Hotel and Convention Center, 2100 South Braeswood (at Braeswood). To find out who's signing when, or to buy advance tickets, call 840-7827.
Red White & Waves Weekend Radio station 104 KRBE begins its annual Fourth of July beach party a day late this year. Today and Sunday, the activities include the usual: sand sculpture, beach games, cultivation of sunburns and ogling of firm young flesh. Partying begins 10 a.m. today, noon Sunday. Stewart Beach, Galveston. For information, call 266-1000. Free.
Family Day at the MFA Want little Whatshisname to appreciate the finer things in life? So does the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which this afternoon will introduce your offspring to Pre-Columbian art via an interactive tour of its holdings, and allow him to make his very own Pre-Columbian-style clay animal. 12:154 p.m. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet (off Main) 639-7300. Museum admission: $3 adults, $1.50 seniors and students; kids under 18 free.
K's Choice Yeah, the radio slaves are ready to mosh to Tonic's halfhearted attempt at rock, and they're primed to flip their Bics at Verve Pipe's melodramatic "The Freshmen." But though those acts are the big names on tonight's triple-header, K's Choice is a better reason to pull on the baggy pants and hit town. This foursome from Belgium has gained limited access to U.S. audiences with its chilling "Not an Addict." The group's latest album, Paradise in Me, juxtaposes heavy metal-style guitars and rhythms with striking vocals more akin to the Indigo Girls. Lead singer Sarah Bettens makes no apologies for her voice's intensity. Her screams purr. Her whispers haunt. She renews your faith in new bands. Doors open at 8 p.m. Numbers, 300 Westheimer, 526-6551. Both shows sold out, but tickets may be available at the door: $17.50.
Show Boat The traveling revival officially docks in Houston tonight (though previews began on Sunday). The large-scale musical doesn't travel light: Along for the ride are 63 actors, 21 musicians, 500 costumes and 500 props, including a 1927 roadster. Pat Harrington stars as Capt'n Andy -- yes, that Pat Harrington, the guy who played Schneider on One Day at a Time. 8 p.m. tonight (see Thrills, Theater, for other times). Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For tickets, call 629-3700. $35$65.
How to Succeed with Women Neill Scott -- LMSW-ACP, LPC, whatever that means -- reveals everything you losers need to know. Topics for this men-only Leisure Learning class include how to stop being boring, how to stop trying too hard and how to recognize a troublesome babe. (Hint: You're supposed to avoid the troublesome ones. Emotional maturity is a good thing.) 7:309:45 p.m. at a secret location in the Greenway Plaza area. To register and get directions, call Leisure Learning at 877-1981 and ask for Class 5003. $15. An extra $13 buys "optional materials." Spring for them. If you've read this far, you obviously need all the help you can get.
Defining Moments and Legacies This "dialogue" aims to examine the last 30 years of Houston art. For that purpose, DiverseWorks has rounded up four people who've defined many of those moments and legacies. There's wild Walter Hopps, the founding director of the Menil Collection, now a curator; William Camfield, longtime Rice University professor of art and art history; Ann Holmes, the Houston Chronicle's critic-at-large; and artist Richard Stout. 5:307 p.m. At DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway. Call for directions: 223-8346. Free.
Bizarre Historical Trivia Betcha didn't know this one: A horrified observer reported that Alexander the Great played hideous practical jokes, once ordering that a salad-hating acquaintance's nose and mouth be stuffed with lettuce and vinegar "until the blood flowing from his nose succeeded his violent coughing." Even more disgusting: William the Conqueror died a very fat man. When a group of bishops tried to squeeze him into a coffin, his bloated corpse exploded, and the stench sent mourners running for the church doors. Read about these and other lurid moments in history by pointing your trusty web browser to www.owlnet.rice.edu/~four/trivia/. Rice student Sebastian Good designed the page, proving the dangers of a good education, access to computers and too much free time. Once more: God bless the U.S.A. Free, save for the connect charges of your Internet provider.