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Thursday, January 28, 2010


by Mary A. Turzillo

On Tuesday, January 27, 2010, NASA said that the robotic explorer Spirit will stay permanently trapped in the deep Martian sand that snared it in the red planet's southern hemisphere in May 2009.

Two able rovers, one called Opportunity, the other Spirit,
launched as the Achaeans did to conquer Troy.
Their scientist masters said follow the water.
They landed, trundled through Mars dunes and dust.
Their quest for truth must not be abandoned.
They moved with energy drunk from the sun.

The rover first to spread light-leaves in the sun
was the one who had launched first, robotic Spirit,
true to the earthly life she'd abandoned,
hailing each new rock as if it were legended Troy,
until her sun-wings were defiled with dust,
no cleansing by little green men's feather duster or rainwater.

How can you clean a solar cell without water?
How can it gather energy from the sun?
Both rovers were dirty, hazed with Martian dust.
It seemed the end of both body and spirit.
It seemed they were headed for Hades, not Troy.
After their triumphs, their task must too soon be abandoned.

But the caprice of nature had not utterly abandoned
the rovers. For we found that wind, and not water,
was the secret that cleansed, like Helen bathing in Troy.
Dust devils whisked their solar cells clean in the sun
and their bodies were willing as were their spirits.
The winds blew them free of the crippling dust.

Yet worse ills arose, engendered by gritty dust:
Spirit's wheel jammed. Yet she wasn't abandoned.
The Earth scientists didn't lose spirit,
didn't give up their "follow the water."
The rover named Spirit still charged her engines with sun.
She limped till she stopped, stuck, at the rock named Troy.

Utterly stuck. But nothing could entirely destroy
her mission though now trapped unmoving in dust,
as long as her cells are tipped to the sun.
But forward driving has now been abandoned.
She must measure Mars' cycle as she once followed the water.
The rover is weak, but there's strength left in Spirit.

The rover called Spirit sits sand-locked at Troy
Searching for water, it finds only dust.
It sleeps abandoned, awaiting the sun.

Mary Turzillo's Nebula winner, "Mars Is No Place for Children," and her novel An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl, serialized in Analog, have been selected as recreational reading on the International Space Station. Her fiction has recently appeared in Analog, Year's Best Lesbian Fiction 2008, George Scithers' Cat Tales, Space and Time, and Otto Penzler's The Vampire Archives. Her story "The Sugar" just appeared in Vera Nazarian's Sky Whales and Other Wonders, and her 2008 Nebula nominee, "Pride," will appear in Ellen Datlow's Tails of Wonder and Mystery. Her poetry collection, Your Cat & Other Space Aliens, was a Pushcart nominee, as was her New Verse News poem "Sculpture, Ohio, Spring 1970."