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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beagle 2


On Earth we could have stuck posters up

On lamp posts and trees,

Desperate pleas for keen-eyed passers by

To get in touch if they caught sight of you;

We could have put handwritten signs

In shop windows, with phone numbers

For those with any information about your whereabouts

To call if they saw you in their garden

Or running down their street.

But there was nothing we could do

Except wait, for days, then weeks.

We sat glued to every TV news,

Tuned in to every radio show

Hoping to hear that you’d finally phoned home,

That it had just been a problem with the radio

And your barks had been heard by one

Of the DSN’s huge ears scattered around the globe –

But nothing, and so we had to let you go,

Let you trot over the robot rainbow bridge

Without saying a proper goodbye,

Left to wonder what might have been

If our Beagle had survived.


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



No-one warned me just how much

Mars hates visitors from Earth.

As they built me, slowly slotting my pieces

Together, none of my Creators dared to sneak

Away from their Supervisors’ side to hide behind me

And whisper in my ear:

You didn’t hear this from me,

But it will try to kill you in a dozen different ways

Each day. Before you even land

It will do its best to end you – maybe by tangling

Your parachutes, or fooling your computer

Into thinking you’re on the ground

When you’ve still a hundred feet left to fall.

And if you manage to survive the insane Skycrane’s

Final bounce, don’t just drive blindly down

Paths that seem safe at first glance.

Spirit took that chance and died before her time…”

No, no one gave me that advice,

Yet I’ve survived the worst this world could throw at me.

But look at my poor wheels!

Their metal is punctured and peeled back as if

Martian dust sharks attack me as I drive,

Hiding beneath the duricrust, their Crysknife-sharp teeth

Biting me, gnawing on me, feasting on my treads

As I roll on, meandering through the foothills of Aeolis Mons,

Every rock and stone punching another hole

In the soles of my feet…


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



Under a polar sky curdled with cloud,

In the shadows of a dying Phoenix’s outstretched wings,

On the dark floor of a clawed-out trench,

A flash of white –




© Stuart Atkinson 2018

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment