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

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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

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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

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The gave the Polar Lander a microphone

To finally let us hear the Sounds of Mars:

The chill northern winds moaning;

The probe’s own machinery groaning and clicking,

That kind of thing.

But the only sound it heard

Was a “Wheeeeee….!” and a “WHUMPF”

As it hit the ground

Like Wil E Coyote.


© Stuart Atkinson 2018



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On Mars


“…but what’s it really like there?” the young boy asked

The first astronaut to walk on Mars, and his mother smiled.

“Imagine you’re standing in Death Valley at midday,” she said,

“The Sun is a ball of fire blazing in the sky,

Your skin is crisping in the heat…”

Then she leaned towards the screen and whispered:

“Now, turn down the Sun until it’s as cold as ice

And shrink it until it’s half its normal size;

Suck away the air around you, all of it,

Until you can’t breathe hen scrub the ground at your feet clean:

Pick up and toss away every last trace of life,

Every twisted twig, every lizard scale, every bleached blade of grass,

Every bug, worm and germ, then remove almost every splash

Of rain, every drop of dew, until the land around you

Is as dry as a bone – that’s my home right now, so beautiful,”

Adding, with a lover’s tender sigh, “and why

I’m never coming back.”


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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When explorers and adventurers die

Their restless spirits fly to Marineris.

No other place on Earth or any other world

Could hope to satisfy their wanderlust

Or thirst for beauty.

John Muir’s ghost is there, hiking the high ridges,

Gazing adoringly at the colours of the raw rock

And stone with Ansell Adams – still groaning

Under the weight of cameras and plates –

Following close behind. So I won’t be surprised if,

When they return, the first astronauts to explore

Its canyons and chasms will swear they saw shadows rippling

Across the walls of rock and felt a thousand eyes

On their backs as they tracked

Across its floor, will insist they heard voices

Carried on the martian wind as they stared

At the long strip of sky above them…


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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O Mons


I dreamed I climbed Olympus Mons

(Not just on a whim, I’m not daft; I packed

Some sandwiches, a flask and a Mars Bar).

The stars were still out when I set off from the Hab and drove

To the volcano’s base, turning my face to the sky

And the summit, so ridiculously high above me

It was almost in space, and after a deep breath

Began my quest to reach the top.

Scaling the escarpment was the hardest part;

Climbing those ancient, lava-lapped cliffs,

Four El Capitans high, but after that it was just a

Heart-pumping hike to the caldera

(Someone once biked it! Crazy!), past Pangboche

To Clayborne’s Castle and the last stroll

To the centre of the Venn diagram of overlapping craters

At the summit, to sit silently on the dusty ground

And listen to the sound of the wind whistling through

The cliffs surrounding me, a choir of ghosts

Singing the songs of ancient Mars…


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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“It’s not dust, they’re fines,”

A grizzled veteran will sigh

Nearly every time a fresh meat newbie

Complains about the stuff,

Wondering why the ads on YouTube and TV

Never mentioned the Misery of Mars;

Why the cute girl in Emigration

Didn’t warn in their interview how

The damned rusty crap would get everywhere,

Clagging up their hair; drying up their throats;

Stinging in the corners of their eyes;

Scratching their visors no matter now hard they tried

To keep them clean;

Clogging up the seals of gloves and boots;

Staining their snow-white cost-a-King’s-ransom EVA suits

Fifty shades of rust within a few sols

Of their giddy arrival.


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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Twin Moons


Two moons, both alike in ugliness,

Orbiting barren Barsoom where we long to be.

From ancient impacts left pitted and scarred,

Now rolling endlessly around Mars like skulls.

On the surfaces of these two tumbling stones

Star-lit explorers will one day stand,

Staring down at Olympus and Marineris,

Hiding Earth and all its history behind their outstretched hands.


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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The Sun


Stepping off the ladder she’ll wonder

“What happened to the Sun?”

So much smaller than the one she shielded her eyes from

As she walked to the launch pad;

So much colder than the one which burned her pale skin

Running around the playground at school,

Or lounging by the pool on her honeymoon.

Icy cold at sunrise and sunset,

Silvery-gold at mid-day, hidden by half a fingernail.

But foolish and unfair to dismiss it

As just a pale imitation of the one which lit her life

From birth to blast-off. Wrong to scoff

At a star which once shone down on sparkling pools,

Rushing rivers and the surf-sudded shores of an ocean.

It once blazed in a Bierstadt-blue sky, and, perhaps,

Some simple forms of life felt its warmth

On their backs briefly before they died?


© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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