Just as day follows night,

Sunset follows sunrise

And dusk follows dawn

War will follow us to Mars.

Small disputes at first; countries

Clashing over mining rights to ice

Or water, minerals or ore.

But one sol all-out war will rage

Across the world named after that gore-drenched

Roman God. Blood will flow briefly down the slopes

Of Olympus and Pavonis before freezing;

Armies will march down Marineris, kicking

Up clouds of dust like long extinct buffalo herds

Before smashing together with shouts and screams,

Swords flashing and gleaming in the golden sunlight,

Guns and missiles cast aside, exchanged for

Old fashioned cruel blades,

A far more elegant and efficient way

Of opening-up a spacesuit or slicing through

An air hose than a bullet or grenade.


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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Visiting Opportunity


Year 3 crossed Meridiani in single file,

Striding across the dusty land,

Holding hands and playing “I Spy”

To pass the time as they climbed Endeavour’s rim.

“…something beginning with…R” Mari said.

“RED!” the others shouted, but Mari

Shook her head. “Rocks?” suggested Stella,

Pointing at the stones arrayed around them

But Mari replied “No” –

Then Amy saw it.

“Rover!” she cried, and letting go

Of her partner’s glove ran over

To stand beside Opportunity,

Squeaky-clean inside her crystal bowl,

Now more than a hundred years old

But looking just as noble and handsome

As she had on Landing Day.

The others followed, flowing around

The famous robot, the one they had learned about

Back in school; the one they knew

Had survived for 20 years on Mars

Before rolling to a final stop atop

Endeavour’s edge, staring out across

The great crater floor, unable to drive any more,

Then finally fell asleep.

That’s one giant leap…” beamed Mandy,

Walking in slow motion around MER-B.

“Wrong planet, silly!” laughed Leo.

“I know,” Mandy sighed, rolling her eyes,

“I was just being Armstrong – “

“Louis Armstrong went to the Moon, not Mars,”

Tars said sniffily, “why don’t you pretend to be

Major Thomas, she was a girl…”

Mandy frowned, but kept bouncing

Around the rover, kicking over stones

As the rest of her class listened intently

To the teacher’s voice in their earpieces,

Telling them all the tale of “Oppy’s Trek”

From Eagle to Endeavour’s windswept walls.

“Time to go…” the teacher said,

Ignoring the moans and “Oh No!”s

And as the shadows crept across the crater floor

And the icy Sun sank lower

In the purple sky they all said goodbye

To Opportunity, and laughing beneath the starry sky,

Headed home.


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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Halley’s Comet Returns


When Halley’s Comet returns in 2062

I wonder how many people will view it

From Mars? There should at least

Be a small base there by then – a McMurdo-esque

Cluster of tunnels and habs, maybe a garage or two

For long distance rover crews to saddle up in

And ride out from, heading out

With a “Wagons roll!” shout, bound

For Marineris’ edge or the winding canyons

Of Noctis.


Perhaps there’ll be more – a small town,

Its foundations laid down by martian Mayflower pilgrims,

The Firefly-quoting nerds, bearded and top-knotted

Hipsters and starry-eyed dreamers Mars has always

Called out to; restless souls who sold everything they owned

To become SpaceX emigrants and rode a BFR to Mars

Years ahead of astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts.


More likely there’ll be just a handful of people there,

Or maybe there’ll be no-one at all,

All the grand plans for settlements and cities

Still just Powerpoints and CGI gathering dust

On a hard drive somewhere.

More likely talking heads will still be saying “The first footprints on Mars

Are at least 30 years away,” just as they were

When the last Apollo crew flew back from the Moon;

Just as they were when Challenger blew up

In that achingly-blue Florida sky; just as they were

When Opportunity climbed high above Endeavour’s floor;

Just as they were when the first Falcon Heavy’s engines roared;

Just as they will be when the ISS falls back to Earth,

Trailing smoke and flame; just as they will be on the day

The last Moonwalker passes away, and

Halley will shine in Ares’ star-frothed sky

Unseen by any human eyes.

Its search-light tail airbrushed across the heavens

Won’t delight anyone missing Earth.

No-one will point and cry “There it is!”

No-one will wave it goodbye;

No-one will sigh “So beautiful…”

As it fades and silently flies away.


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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First Birth


For four billion years there were few sounds to hear

On Mars. The low moan of winds moving

Through the valleys; the rasping hiss of dust devils

Kissing as they waltzed across the plains;

The click-clack of rocks falling down canyon walls,

Bouncing a dozen times before landing on the floor below.

Then a procession of noises,

All unnatural and strange.

Loud crashes as metal machines fell from the sky

To smash into the ground; the WHUMP of parachutes

Opening high above; the whir of wheels,

The grinding of gears as robot rovers, steered

From many millions of miles away rolled

Across the landscape, exploring.

One day there’ll be the crunch of a boot

Scrunching into the dust. Then another, and another,

Whoops and cheers after four billion years of peace.

Then the hammering will begin: metal plates

Being shaped into life-supporting Habs, then homes

For families to live in – and grow.

And then, one sol, no-one can predict when,

A new sound will echo around Mars.

At the end of a long, twin-moon night

Of pacing and waiting on two worlds – a baby’s cry.

The birth of a new age.


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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First Death


The first person to die on Mars is alive today.


As you read these words,

The first person to be buried in the cold,

Hard martian ground, covered with clinking

Red rocks, destined to go down in history

As the first human being to lose their life

On another world is out there, somewhere,

Fast asleep in their bed, or trying on a wedding gown,

Or out on the town with frinds;

They could be sitting quietly in a noisy class at school,

Or singing in the shower as they wash their hair,

Blissfully unaware what fate

Has in store for them.


They’ll train for years, then, fully qualified,

Slide into their seat, grinning from ear to ear.

Six months later they’ll jump down onto the dusty ground

Laughing with delight, ready to start a whole new life

On the New World.


Then… something will happen.

A suit seal will fail, or they’ll trip and fall,

Cracking their helmet visor like eggshell,

Leaving them flailing, gasping for air

Like a beached whale.

Or maybe fines, inhaled on the sol they arrived,

Will find a cosy, quiet corner of their lungs

To lurk in and set about their ghastly work,

Turning pink tissue into stinking tumour,

A ticking timebomb set to detonate

On some future, “Where were you when..?” date.


Two worlds, the Old and the New,

Will watch their funeral,

United in grief as weeping astronauts heap

Rocks and stones onto the grave,

Building a shrine for their them,

A curiosity for their bored kids

And a tourist attraction for the waves of colonists

Who will take their place.


(c) Stuart Atkinson



© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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First Footprint


Ironic, and sad, that although the marks of hominid heels and toes

Left in Laetoli’s volcanic ash almost four million years ago

Have survived until today, Mankind’s first footprint

On another world was lost within moments of it being made.

Armstrong’s One Small Step was stamped on and erased

As he shuffled around the Eagle on his EVA,

Kicking up dust, and whatever traces survived

Were scuffed away by Aldrin’s boots soon after.


Will things be different on Mars?

Will the first down the ladder on Landing Day

Carry a big glass bowl to throw over their boot-print,

Preserving it for the future’s historians and tourists to see?


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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Landing Day



The world watched Armstrong’s One Small Step

On TV. Staring at flickering screens,

Holding their breath as his boot

Pressed into the grey lunar dust with an unheard crump,

Lumps in their throats as history

Was made before their eyes

And Cronkite wiped tears from his.

What will it be like the next time?

On Landing Day, when Mankind

Finally, finally, after all the delays,

Walks on Mars, how will we participate?


History will repeat itself, to a degree.

Most of us will be seated in front of huge screens,

Wider than the Eagle’s ladder was long.

Others will be VR voyeurs,

Faces concealed, sealed into 3D HD helmets,

Their heads turning this way and that

As events unfold.

Many will watch it on their phones,

Secretly, in quiet corners of offices,

Or riding the bus home, or sat on lonely benches

In the park as darkness falls and newly-conquered Mars

Hangs above the trees like a Chinese lantern.

Still others will watch in crowded clubs and bars,

Letting off steam after work, glancing at screens

Mounted on the walls, shouting angrily

As someone flicks channels over to the football.

I wonder what language they’ll speak

As they leap in Mars’ weak gravity…

Mandarin, perhaps, or English with a SpaceX Texan drawl?

Maybe Russians will raise the first flag that day?

Or a grinning Australian will smile into the camera

And say “We came in peace, mate!”


I don’t really care; I just want someone to go there,

For the endless Powerpoint parade to end

And for someone to be sent further than the Moon.

Soon? Yeah, right. You know the saying:

“Whatever the year, Mars is always ‘just 30 years away’…


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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Red Mars

red mars


Such a cliché to say

“This book changed my life!”

But RED MARS really did.

I’d never seen my Mars in print before;

No author had ever reached into my chest

And wrapped their fingers around my heart

Like KSR did from chapter one.

It’s my Pride and Prejudice;

My Moby Dick; my Old Man And The Sea,

As important to me as War and Peace

Is to millions. After all these years

The First Hundred are as real and as dear to me

As any characters created by Dickens or Shakespeare.

Sneering Frank Chalmers, as dark and troubled

As King Lear; John Boone every bit as noble

As any sword-swinging Middle Earth hero;

Furiously-curious gene genie Sax, a modern Moreau;

And lonely Ann Clayborne, as heart-breaking a heroine

As Cosette, Katniss or Karenina.

Every time I read it the real world fades away.

The grey sky above me turns a caramel hue,

Every scrunching leaf and dew-beaded blade of grass vanishes,

Replaced by rust red boulders, rocks and stones

Until yet again I’m standing all alone

On Mars,

On Mars,

On Mars.


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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Nat Geo











My shelves groan under the weight

Of books about Mars.

They bend in the middle, like geological layers

Of stone warped by time, moaning

“No more, please, no more!”

Crammed onto them, almost vacuum-packed

Are paperbacks and hardbacks by the hundred;

Sci-fi novels old and new; atlases and volumes

Of maps and charts; scientific papers

And reports with barely a gap between them.

But on the top shelf – the most important of them all,

Its cover creased and faded now, bleached by the Sun,

Ink smudged in places by my fingers and thumbs,

Its original wasp belly-yellow dulled

To a pale imitation of its former self.

There it is, see? Sandwiched between

Red Mars and The Martian Chronicles,

Between Squyres’ Roving Mars and Clarke’s

Snows of Olympus: The National Geographic

From January 1977,

A special issue celebrating the Viking landings

Of the previous year. Almost an antique now,

Definitely “vintage”, but still as beautiful

As the day I… acquired it from my school in 1981,

The year the first space shuttle flew.

I’d found it in the Leaning Tower of Pisa pile

Of magazines the art teacher kept in a corner for all

Her budding Rembrandts, Constables and Warhols

To browse in search of inspiration.

I was inspired to slip it into my bag and scurry

Out of the room with it, hurrying home

To gaze at its deliciously glossy pages

Filled with photos of the landing sites

At Chryse and Utopia.



© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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My First View


The first time I saw you I was

Fifteen, I think, just starting

To discover the sky. I’d

Been “into space” since I was five

– From the day I was made to sit in front of

The Big TV in school

To watch Apollo astronauts kangaroo-

Hopping across the Moon,

Lighting a flame in me

That would never go out –

But the sky above my head remained

A mystery. Eclipses, comets, meteor showers,

All passed by without me even trying

To see them, but finally I turned my eyes

Away from the distractions of the small screen,

Away from JR’s sneer, Daisy Dukes’ shorts

And Metal Mickey’s puns, to gaze up at Up There,

And realised what I’d missed.

And top of my “Things To See” list was you.

I’d been drawn to you, fascinated by you,

Some would later say obsessed with you

Since I was old enough to pick up a book.

Hiding in school libraries at breaktimes when I should

Have been outside “playing” in the Sun,

My idea of fun was reading about your volcanoes

And valleys, canyons and craters,

Imagining exploring your great deserts, mountains and plains.

And then, one night, I finally saw you –

Not on TV, or in a magazine,

Not on the pages of a book in a library

But with my own eyes. Through my first telescope

You were a tiny thing, an orange disc trembling

In my snow-white Tasco’s crappy eyepiece

But I was hypnotised.

There was your pole, a pale blue dot

Beneath the brown-grey “Never thought I’d see it”

V of Syrtis Major.

And even though you wriggled and shook

Like a fish fighting on a hook

That first view of you was more magical,

More real than any of the Viking pair’s

Sweeping panoramas.


Fast forward forty years.

Every day my phone shows me the latest photos

Of you taken by robot rovers;

Spy satellites rolling endlessly in orbit high

Above you send back images so detailed they show

The shadows of individual boulders

On the floor of Valles Marineris.

I live in the sci-fi future I longed for as a child.

But I’ll never forget my first view of you,

On the night a red star became Barsoom.


© Stuart Atkinson 2018


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