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This was possibly published in Omni, or some other magazine, about 1979.

A group of boys build a rocket ship from scrap in their backyard. They enter into it for playing, and when they get out they are in a very John Carter-ish version of Mars. They even think they see a green, four-armed giant warrior.

They come back to the rocket and return to Earth. One of them realizes he lost his penknife during the tour. They never comment on their experience, thinking it was just a dream.

Decades later, the boy who lost his penknife becomes the first astronaut to walk on the airless and dry real Mars. Inspecting the rocks, one brilliant object draws his attention. He retrieves it and realizes that it is the penknife that he lost when he was a child.

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    In case anyone else was wondering, I looked up "oneiric", and it means "of or relating to dreams". Feb 19, 2016 at 17:26
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    Oh, thanks. I knew that the word existed, but I should have looked how much unused was in modern english.
    – Ginasius
    Feb 19, 2016 at 17:29
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    If it was on Omni maybe you can try to read the title of the stories in the issues of 1979 here, maybe they will ring a bell.
    – user54256
    Feb 19, 2016 at 17:44
  • The word "oneiric" was actually used in the story?
    – user14111
    Feb 19, 2016 at 18:41
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    @Ginasius It's not that unused. I went through your question and fixed some grammar and spelling for you, but I consider oneiric to be a perfectly normal word, so it didn't even occur to me to change it. (I also happen to rather like the word.) :-) Feb 19, 2016 at 22:34

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I believe this may be "The First Mars Mission" by Robert F. Young, which first appeared in the May 1979 issue of "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction."

Your memory of "valles marineris" appearing verbatim lead me to a fragment of a story in Google Books that did not particularly look like it matched (and searches steadfastly refused to both name the exact issue or the author or any details more than about a paragraph of text), but since it did look like it was in a magazine from 1979, I did some digging and found the title, and searching on that, I found this site which describes the story:

Between the Hard SF and Planetary Romance stories of Mars falls this one interesting tale that serves as a sort of bridge between the two: "The First Mars Mission" by Robert F. Young (1979). "The First Mars Mission" tells of a group of young boys who build a space ship in their backyard and take a fanciful trip of the imagination to Mars. But when one of the young boys grows up to be an astronaut and travels to Mars for real, he discovers that his boyhood fantasy journey may not have been so fantastic after all. This story—half fantasy, half science fiction—first appeared, appropriately enough, in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Which looks like it matches pretty closely to your own description.

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  • Hey, @starpilotsix you are right! The rocket was not made from cardboard, but scrap metal and lumber. And, "For weapons, the boys took along a baseball bat, a hatchet, and a Boy Scout knife that had four blades and would also open the pork and beans. " Great job.
    – Ginasius
    Sep 22, 2016 at 21:18

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