End of An Age

Savour these days, relish them,
Roll them around your curious minds
Like the last precious taste of your favourite wine
And sip them slowly, for they will not come again.
At least not in our lifetimes;
These Golden Days are the fading rays
Of our race’s First Space Age, for when this year is done
We will finally have seen all Sol’s classic worlds,
Walked the planetary path from Mercury to Pluto
To stand on the Kuiper cliff’s crumbling edge
And stare out into the abyss beyond,
Knowing there will be nowhere else to go
For The First Time until we punch through the Oort’s
Icy wall and push out to the stars themselves.
Even then it will be centuries, perhaps,
Before we see the strange new worlds and moons
Of those other suns; before we marvel at the sight
Of their Atlantics and Everests bathed in alien light.
We have been spoiled of late,
Taken miracles and wonders in our stride.
In my fleeting half century I have seen
Our solar system’s greatest secrets revealed –
On Titan, the dried blood stains of foul and fetid lakes;
An impossible Death Star moon skating silently
Around looming Saturn’s glittering rings;
Iapetus’ Stegosaur spine, slopes airbrushed black and white
By Nature’s and Time’s patient hands.
Flying by asteroids and satellites
Has become common to us as one amazing place after another
Has been ticked off Mankind’s “Must See” vacation list.
So easy now to take for granted the thrill of gazing down
From high above Mercury’s poles and spying splashed-comet ice
Glinting far below, or watching the Sun rise behind mighty
Caloris Basin’s bulls-eye peaks.
Through SOHO’s sentinel eyes we’ve spied
Countless sublime comets sweeping around the Sun,
Flaring phosphorous bright before fading away,
Their phantoms fleeing into the endless night.
And albatross-winged Rosetta has led me, crunching and crumping my way
Across the boulder-strewn icy plains of one comet
(With a double-barrelled Russian name I still cannot pronounce)
Before I bounced with Philae over its cratered, pitted face…

My greatest joy? An easy choice.
For almost a dozen years I’ve roamed John Carter’s Mars,
Walking proudly beside my beloved Opportunity
As she roved its rusty landscape, standing on craters’
Crumbling edges, crossing deserts of cinnamon sand.
Since her landing, my hand has rested on her back every sol,
As her weary wheels turned and turned and turned,
Churning up the ancient fines,
The Evening Star of Earth burning lantern-bright
In her purple Gothic twilight,
New horizons falling like dominoes as she drove
Across the Red Mars I fell in love with as a child,
Long before Robinson brought its wild and noble lands
So vividly to life for everyone else with his terraforming tales…
All these things I have seen and more
But now – The Barren Years loom.
With Chapter One of our restless race’s fearful
Walk through space’s dark forest almost complete
There is nowhere left to see for the first time,
No magic “What the **** is THAT?” moments lie ahead
To Tweet or blog or post or Google + about.
Instead, an Interlude, adventure put on pause,
Mankind making a cup of tea in the adverts between
Don’t Miss episodes of exploration.

What next Giant Leap
Will fill our sleep with dreams of greatness?
The first bootprints on Mars you say?
Ha! That is still, as it has always been,
“At least 30 years away”.
The first landing on Europa then?
When will Musk, ignoring Monolith Makers’ advice,
Melt through that enigmatic moon’s Eton Mess ice
To look for life hiding in the slush below?
The first touchdown on Enceladus’ snow?
Perhaps… perhaps Chinese cameras will return those Turner-hued views
Of its geysers’ plumes glowing softly in the sky one day…

But all an age away, an age,
If they happen at all; if our civilisation does not fall,
Its science smothered beneath blood-soaked black banners,
Its head hacked off and held aloft by ignorance and hate,
Sightless eyes left staring sadly at the stars
It now will never reach…

One thing is certain.
In years to come, when Terra’s flag unfurls
On worlds whirling around other stars,
When Earth’s satellite-saturated sky
Is spattered with points of light
Explorers and colonists call “Home”
They will envy us for living at this time,
Wish that they had been alive
When Voyagers took flight us on their glorious Grand Tour,
When Aldrin was “too busy” to take pictures
Of Armstrong bouncing across the Moon
And twin Vikings landed on Barsoom…

How they’ll envy our first glimpses
Of Ganymede’s frozen coffee plains,
Of Ceres’ strange white spot and all the other wonders
We see in our glossy magazines.
Standing on mountain peaks light years away
They’ll shake their helmeted heads in disbelief,
Trying to imagine how it felt to soar above Titan’s
Hoarfrost-shored lakes with our smartphones,
Wondering how we could sit on juddering buses and planes
Roving fabulous Mars on our tablets without even batting an eye…

So, savour these days, relish them.
For us, they will not come again.

© Stuart Atkinson 2015

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