SPURRED on by Vice President Quayle's interest in the red planet, NASA means to find out if there's a Great Stone Face on Mars that was carved by intelligent beings.

Ever since the 1976 Viking spacecraft brought back pictures of the northern Martian desert called Cydonia, inquiring minds have been fascinated by a group of mysterious landforms - notably a mile-long, 1,500-foot-high mesa that appears to have a chiseled nose, hair, and two eyes.

In the past, top NASA officials have discounted the Face as a "trick of light and shadow." And they've laughed off the claims of the private group Mars Mission that it and its surrounding "pyramids" were the work of beings who may have taught their skills to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Mayans.

But yesterday the manager of NASA's upcoming Mars Observer mission told PAGE SIX's George Rush that the agency hopes to deliver what Mars Mission has long demand-ed: close-up portraits of the Face.

"We intend to do the very best we can to get those pictures for the American people," said David Evans, who's over-seeing the spacecraft which leaves in September for the red planet. Though Evans "sincerely doubts" that an advanced civilization carved the Face, he added: "There may be something there." Evans' curiosity about Cydonia should gladden Richard Hoagland, head of Mars Mission, who in a talk at UN headquarters yesterday chided U.S.

space explorers for expecting that "E.T. would phone NASA."

Hoagland's talk was sponsored by the Parapsychology Society, whose president, Mohammad Ramadan, appealed to the UN General Assembly to recognize the "inter-stellar community" and to find out if "those who are leaving crop circles and kidnapping Earthlings" mean "to save us from ourselves."

Hoagland told us the "Chariots of the Gods" theories of Erich Von Daniken were sheer nonsense." But he can't ignore the "stunning correspondence" between the pyramids of Egypt and Mars. "In my heart of hearts," he feels, aliens "came here and instructed us."

He's been probing Cydonia since 1983. But only since George Bush took office and made Dan Quayle head of the National Space Council has Hoagland felt he's gotten a fairer hearing.

He was "not unhappy" to hear this month that NASA chief Richard H. Truly had been fired - reportedly at the urging of Quayle. Hoagland already has attracted thousands of NASA employees to two talks he gave at NASA research centers. A film made at NASA's Lewis Center in Cleveland will include his ideas. The axed NASA chief had found those ideas "too hot to handle," said Hoagland, who's excited to hear that "they're picking a guy to replace him who's very bullish on going to Mars."