Stop for a moment and think about this:
Today, 3000 sols after streaking through its salmon-pink sky,
Bouncing across Barsoom like a giant’s beach ball,
Opportunity’s heart-flame of exploration still burns bright;
The Rover That Should Have Died By Now
Refuses to go softly into the martian night.
Remember how, as we celebrated her arrival,
Whooping with relief as each new picture was revealed,
We all hoped she might survive 90 dusty days?
Remember how, seeing El Capitan’s parchment-thin layers of stone
We crossed our fingers, daring to dream she’d roam
Long enough to cross a klick of Mars?
Oh, we of little faith!
She is still there, still roving;
Her wheels have rolled over almost 35k of ancient stone –
130 times farther than Orville flew across Kitty Hawk;
A dozen times farther than Armstrong walked
On the Moon; 4 times farther than Everest is high!
Yestersol’s photos showed what cynics love to call
“The usual” – a plain, scattered with boulders and pebbles,
Ruddy rocks doing absolutely nothing
Under a rusted Roman coin Sun.
Over there, across Endeavour’s floor:
Her faraway eastern hills; rising up behind: the Stegosaur spine
Of Cape York; over her frozen shoulder: gypsum veins shining
On the ground like slug trails.
A landscape only a loyal Rover Hugger could love.
But I heard a rumour of photos from late 2999:
Three out of focus frames taken just before sunset,
When shadows grow long and Ares’ orange sky turns grey,
A truly ‘unexpected sequence’ capturing something strange…
So strange they could never be displayed
On Exploratorium, or any of the web pages
Rover fans such as you and I rely on
For our daily fix of pan- and nav-cam pics –
I heard the first shows an old man – mop of salt white hair,
Glasses and a love-of life-grin –
Standing on Cape York’s shell-free shore,
Gazing out across the dusty sea of southern Meridiani,
Looking towards the horizon where a ghostly shape
Is silhouetted against the lavender sky…
On the second the man is smiling widely, beaming
As an emerald hulled sand ship skims towards him
Across the dusky purple sands, its Kingfisher wing-
Blue sails filled by the whispers of the desert wind…
On the third and final image, the grainiest of all,
The old man is standing on the sand ship’s prow
As it sails off into the night. By his side, another figure,
Dark and golden-eyed beneath the mask hiding his face,
One of a race already old when Man was still an ape
Hurling half-gnawed bones into the sky…
A fantasy, of course; such a thing could never be.
Mars has no spirits of martian warriors or terran dreamers.
But some might wonder why, as Sol 3000 approached,
The flow of images from Ares suddenly froze…
© Stuart Atkinson 2012
Note: huge thank you to my great friend Glen Nagle for creating a beautiful, illustrated of this poem. You can find it on his blog: