Mars Return


Planetary returns
Planetary returns occur when a transiting planet reaches the same degree and minute as its natal position. Returns mark the beginning of another cycle of that planet's continued development in our psyches. Each cycle lasts from each return until the following one; in Mars's case, that's about two years. The first Mars return at approximately age two marks the "terrible twos," when children start to realize they are separate beings from their mothers. They possess their own will; they want to set their own boundaries.
What about adults' Mars returns? Some meanings of Mars besides boundaries and tantrums are:

assertion; aggression; the fight, flight or freeze reactions to threats
courage and fear
violence, accidents
the desire nature
energy, what fuels us
our "sword and shield": how we attack, how we defend ourselves
what we're willing to fight for, and with
our will

The Mars return
Mars returns:
offer chances to integrate our natal Mars further, in any one or more of its meanings.
refer to the house position of natal Mars: What's the overall proving ground (the house position) of our natal Mars?
appear to manifest more in the house of returning Mars: In what area(s) of life (in what house) will we take this biennial "midterm exam" on our natal Mars?

Why might Mars returns manifest in their returning house position? Perhaps one answer to that question lies in Mars's natural rulership of the first house, from which a planet can "enter" or influence any other.

Let's examine some famous people's Mars returns. All charts have data rated Rodden A or AA and use Placidus houses.

Apollo 13:  The (mis)adventure
A full discussion of the events surrounding the mid-flight decision to abort Apollo 13's mission to land on the Moon in April, 1970, would require a longer article. We'll look at only the general outlines of this near-disaster. Unbeknownst either to mission control in Houston or to Apollo 13's crew, one of the spacecraft's two oxygen tanks' internal heating elements had been damaged during modification after preflight testing. At almost 56 hours into the mission, the damaged tank blew up. The explosion deprived the command module of its normal supply of electricity, light and water, and caused the other oxygen tank to fail too.
"Houston, we have a problem"⎯a "problem" that occurred at some 200,000 miles from the Earth and 39,000 miles from the Moon. Actually, there were several problems.
Apollo 13 could no longer land on the Moon and had to make a course correction to employ lunar gravity to help "sling-shot" it back to Earth. Since the command module's power and water supplies were limited and had to be saved for re-entry, the crew had to leave the command module, enter the lunar module and travel home under reduced power. However, the lunar module's consumables were intended to sustain two people for a day and a half, not three people for four days. NASA and the astronauts had to figure out how to remove enough CO2 from the lunar module's air to keep it breathable, how to power up the command module from total shutdown, a procedure never intended to be done mid-flight, and how to separate the lunar module to a safe distance from the command module just before re-entry. They had to accomplish these tasks under minimal power, while the lunar module's interior temperature dropped to 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

James Lovell, Apollo 13 mission commander
Mars stresses us. Mars applies pressure: "Do you have the right stuff?"
Jim Lovell has natal Mars, ruler of his Aries Sun, in Aquarius in the second house. While the eighth house is the house of death, its opposite, the second house, is the house of survival, as well as self-esteem, self-confidence and resources. Below is Lovell's birth chart.

(Jim Lovell, natal, Mar. 25, 1928, 2:10 am, Cleveland OH, Placidus. RR, AA: B.C./B.R.)

Natally, Lovell's Mars tests refer to these and other second house questions: Am I competent? Am I courageous? Do I have enough training or other resources to handle whatever I must? Can I survive?
Below is the chart of Lovell's last Mars return before Apollo 13's launch.

(Lovell's last Mars return before Apollo 13: Dec. 1, 1969, 4:37:32 pm, Cleveland OH)

Lovell's Mars return occurred, or manifested, in his tenth house. A Navy test pilot before entering the space program, Lovell was Apollo 13's commander. Even though the initial damage to Apollo 13's oxygen tank occurred during modifications conducted by others, if Apollo 13 had been lost, it would have happened on Jim Lovell's watch (tenth house). Moreover, it would have happened very much in the public eye (tenth house). As the astronauts and Houston personnel scrambled to recover from the explosion, the world anxiously followed NASA's televised updates. The disaster tested Lovell's ability to lead (tenth house), and his ability to utilize the spacecraft's remaining resources in order to survive (second house).

Jack Swigert, Astronaut
Former Air Force fighter pilot Jack Swigert wouldn't have been aboard Apollo 13 if regular crew member Ken Mattingly hadn't been exposed to German measles, to which he had no immunity, and been grounded by the mission's flight surgeon. Swigert joined Apollo 13 from its backup crew. His chart is below:

(natal chart, Jack Swigert, Aug. 30, 1931, 6:19 a.m., Denver, CO, Placidus. RR, AA: B.C./B.R.)

Virgo Jack Swigert also has a second house natal Mars, in Libra where it's traditionally in detriment. Its second house placement refers to the development of Swigert's self-confidence, self-esteem, and faith in his abilities to overcome fears and to survive. Add his natal twelfth house Virgo Sun to that second house Mars, and issues around competency can become acute. Swigert had to use self-confidence (Mars) to perform his job as well as possible (Virgo Sun), while dealing with crucially important (second house: survival) details (Virgo)—and live to tell the tale (survival).
Swigert's natal Mars in Libra figures in a cardinal grand cross that includes Mars's almost partile opposition to his eighth house Arian Uranus. Also in that grand cross are Swigert's fifth house Saturn in Capricorn opposing his eleventh house Cancerian Pluto. In other words, Swigert's natal grand cross in the succedent houses (2, 5, 8 and 11) is formed by a Mars-Uranus opposition that squares a Saturn-Pluto opposition.
Grand crosses produce tension (oppositions) and friction (squares) among their planets. Each planet's functions can seem at odds with those of the other three. How do we integrate a grand cross? To interpret an ideal manifestation of any aspect, pretend it's a conjunction that's working well.
What would a healthy Mars-Uranus-Saturn-Pluto conjunction look like? Mars, the warrior planet, uses both a sword and a shield to help us get what we want and to protect  us. Uranus, Saturn and Pluto are part of Swigert's inner warrior's arsenal, along with the energies of Mars's natal sign, Libra, with its desire to understand people, social skills and wish for harmony.
Swigert's natal Uranus in Aries can signify an ability to tolerate the unexpected (Uranus) and to adapt to new and/or frightening (eighth house) situations quickly (Aries). Saturn in Capricorn requires resourcefulness, self-control, and an ability to prioritize. Pluto lies where we can develop unnerving psychological perceptiveness, intensity, and a wider-than-average comfort zone for what most frightens us, including death and what lies beyond it. With all these energies to draw from, Swigert's Mars has a well-stocked armory.
Here's the chart of his pre-Apollo 13 Mars return.

(Jack Swigert, Mars return pre-Apollo 13, Dec. 9,  1968, 9:15:13 am, Denver, CO)

This Mars return manifested in Swigert's ninth house of "long journeys," and on the longest journey human beings have ever taken. Imagine riding a rocket into cold vast space while protected by nothing but a thin, cramped metal shell. Swigert had to survive (second house) an even more terrifying (Mars) journey (ninth house Mars return) after the explosion. The possibility of dying must have turned Swigert's thoughts to how he'd lived and what he believed (ninth house). He must have pondered the twist of fate that put him instead of Mattingly on Apollo 13: Why was he there, and what did it mean (ninth house)?

Ken Mattingly, Astronaut
Ken Mattingly's birth chart is below:

(Ken Mattingly, natal chart, Mar. 17, 1936, 6:22 pm, Chicago, IL. Placidus. RR, AA: B.C., B.R.)

The red planet lies in its own sign, Aries, and in Mattingly's natal seventh house. Natally, Mattingly's Mars challenges refer to his connections to others: spouses, partners, colleagues, lovers, competitors. A seventh house Mars can also refer to facing fears with other people. Below is Mattingly's Mars return chart before Apollo 13.

(KM's pre-Apollo 13 Mars return: Feb. 19, 1970, 9:59:14 am, Chicago, IL)

This Mars return chart manifests in the twelfth house, one of whose motifs is sequestration because of illness. Because fellow crew member Fred Haise (colleague, seventh house) had been exposed to German measles, Mattingly's vulnerability to that disease barred him (twelfth house) from a mission for which he'd trained hard:  the adventurer (Mars) who missed the adventure (twelfth house).
During the crisis, Mattingly worked on several teams at mission control (seventh house, colleagues) who were involved with the recovery, as well as alone in the simulator (twelfth house return: a simulated reality). He was acting behind the scenes (twelfth house) to save his colleagues (seventh house), and working with other people (seventh house).

Eddie Arcaro, Athlete
Eddie Arcaro rode in over 24,000 races and won close to 5,000, including two victories in the Triple Crown (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont). His natal chart is below:

(natal chart, Eddie Arcaro, Feb. 19, 1916, 3:30 pm CST, Cincinnati, OH. Placidus. RR, AA: B.C./B.R.)

Imagine piloting a high-strung animal weighing 1000 pounds around a racetrack, with as many as two dozen equally high-strung horses all running thirty miles an hour or faster. A Thoroughbred's top speed when sprinting is about 44 m.p.h. Jockeys wear helmets, but not the protection of a football or hockey player. If jockeys take a spill, the other horses will jump over them if they can, but if one stumbles, it could land on the fallen jockey. The "sport of kings" requires tremendous personal courage, as well as topnotch riding skills and serious upper-body strength, all from one small rider.
Weighing three pounds at his premature birth, Arcaro grew to only five feet two inches tall and never topped 114 pounds. Nonetheless, he loved sports and was determined to be an athlete. He loved horses, too, and realized that his small stature was an advantage at the track. While still in his teens, he began riding professionally.
Look at Arcaro's natal first house Mars in Leo. It refers to the development of assertiveness, confidence and will as integral, immediately evident parts of Arcaro's persona (the Ascendant). Mars is retrograde, not a condition you might expect in the chart of someone who risked his life in a highly competitive, dangerous sport every working day. Yet a retrograde Mars can symbolize great inner strength and determination: Arcaro lost 45 races before winning his first one, just before he turned 16. How many teenagers display that kind of grit?
Arcaro's first Triple Crown win began with his mount Whirlaway's victory in 1941's Kentucky Derby. Below is Arcaro's last Mars return chart before that memorable race:

(Eddie Arcaro's last Mars return before Whirlaway's Triple Crown win, Jul. 28, 1940, 6:39:03  pm CST, Cincinnati, OH)
Whirlaway was a difficult horse. With no warning, he would rear or jump, hang back at starting gates, bear to the outside of the track during races, and slow down and zigzag when in the lead. But he was the fastest horse in his stable, Calumet Farms, and the fastest that his trainer, Ben Jones, had ever schooled.
Arcaro admitted later that, despite applying all his jockey's instincts and intuition to the task, he'd found it difficult to warm up to the horse whose own trainer called him "a half-wit" for his bad habits. According to Arcaro, "It was never any picnic to ride Whirlaway." Picnic or not, however, he met the challenge (first house Mars) of working with the feisty Thoroughbred.
Jones spent long hours trying to change the horse's antics. According to Jimmy Jones, Ben's son and also a trainer, because Whirlaway was very much a creature of habit, the elder Jones schooled the horse with the intention of making "habits" out of the behavior they wanted from him. To correct the horse's drifting toward the outer rail, Jones gave him a racing hood with the right eye completely covered. In Whirlaway's final pre-Derby workout, Jones cut a small hole in the right eye's blinder, so that the horse had a tiny field of vision with that eye. Next, Jones positioned himself ten feet off the inner rail and told the jockey to ride the horse through the gap between him and that rail. Even though Whirlaway could now see the outer rail, he complied. In the race, Arcaro succeeded in keeping Whirlaway moving straight ahead, and they won the Derby in then-record time.
Look at the wide Sun-Mars conjunction manifesting in the seventh house of Arcaro's pre-Triple-Crown Mars return chart. The seventh house rules partnerships, cooperation and collaboration, as well as closer relationships. In the return chart, at least one of those partnerships promised to hold a considerable edge: Mars in Leo's wide conjunction to the Sun makes that Mars "shine," adding strength and more edginess to the red planet. Arcaro had to collaborate (seventh house) both with Jones, the trainer (an authority figure, Sun), and with the fractious prima donna Whirlaway (Mars in Leo). Jimmy Jones said of Arcaro: "He was the perfect extension of the trainer (seventh house) on the horse."
After the 1941 Triple Crown, on September 19, 1942, the Jockey Club revoked Arcaro's license for a year after his display of "rough riding" aboard the favorite in the Cowdin Stakes. Arcaro deliberately drove his horse into another one, knocking the other jockey, Vincent Nodarse, into the infield. Why? Nodarse and his mount had crowded Arcaro at the start of the race, almost unseating him, whereupon the Aquarian Arcaro broke the rules himself and went after Nodarse. Arcaro's natal first house Mars refers to the use of courage, will and self-defense (Mars) to ensure his sheer physical survival (first house). Arcaro felt directly and personally threatened (first house Mars) by the other horse's crowding of his own mount. He might have received a shorter suspension, but when the steward asked him what he'd been trying to do, instead of admitting he'd been out of line, he screamed, "I was trying to kill the S.O.B.!"
Below is the chart for Arcaro's last Mars return before the incident with Nodarse:

(Eddie Arcaro's Mars return before suspension, Jul. 10, 1942, 3:15:02 am, Cincinnati, OH)

Look at the third house Mars that manifests in Arcaro's pre-suspension Mars return chart. Mars lies in the house of "short journeys;" a trip around a racetrack on board a Thoroughbred qualifies as one. The confusing scramble for racing room, and the need for lightning-fast observation and reactions that are intrinsic to the start of a race, all correlate with the third house too: Jockeys are claiming their horse's place in the field, and quickly. Yet the third is also the house of speech. Arcaro's outraged Leonine outburst to the stewards—how dare Nodarse threaten him!—contributed directly to his suspension, perhaps more so than his knocking the other jockey into the infield.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Stateswoman
Before Eleanor Roosevelt's husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), served four terms as President of the United States, he was struck with polio and confined to a wheelchair. Eleanor became increasingly prominent in American politics and society. She played a more active role in political life than any previous or subsequent First Lady, and she might have made that great impact regardless of Franklin's disability. Long before social media, Eleanor maintained a public profile through her newspaper and magazine columns, her activism, and her traveling and teaching. As one might imagine, her trajectory toward greater visibility and influence wasn't free of conflict. She must have drawn on her Scorpio Mars's capacity for shrewdness, perceptiveness and sense of strategy. Her natal chart is below:

(Eleanor Roosevelt's natal chart, Oct. 11, 1884, 11:00 a.m., New York, NY. AA: Rodden collection.)

Eleanor Roosevelt's natal Mars lies in her eleventh house and in Scorpio, opposing her fifth house Neptune in Taurus and trining her seventh house Cancer Moon. That Moon forms tense square to her natal Sun in Libra in the tenth house. Her Sagittarian Ascendant sextiles and energizes her Sun, while it quincunxes her Moon.
Consider the eleventh house placement of Eleanor's Mars. Planets in that house are like time-released vitamins, slated to become more active in our astrological bloodstream in the second half of life than in the first. She was a Libra with a seventh house Cancer Moon, not a person who would find accessing her inner warrior (Mars) the easiest task even without her late-blooming eleventh house Mars. As an unidentified author on the PBS website said:

For most of her early life, Eleanor was dependent on and deferential to the wills and
demands of those around her. But history and personal events combined to propel Eleanor from the rigid confines of Victorian femininity to the center stage of twentieth century political activism. (1)

Her natal Mars tests came in the realm of her connections to groups both large and small (eleventh house): the Democratic party, elite New York social circles, American women, the United Nations, etc. In our eleventh houses lies our potential for making an impact on the world, our culture and contemporaries: our clubs, towns, schools, social organizations, and all the various "tribes" we encounter in modern life. If Eleanor Roosevelt grew into her eleventh house Mars, she had the potential of affecting many, many people.
Franklin married Eleanor against his domineering mother's wishes. When the couple returned from a three-month honeymoon in Europe, they moved into a townhouse that FDR's mother, Sara Delano, had given them―right next to Sara's own, and separated from it only by sliding doors. The senior Mrs. Roosevelt ran both households, to such a degree that she told Eleanor's children that Eleanor had "only" given birth to them and that she, Sara, was more their mother than Eleanor was. Below is the chart for Eleanor's last Mars return before moving next door to Sara:

(ER's Mars return before moving next door to Sara: May 2, 1905, 2:54:35 am EST, New York, NY)

Eleanor's returning Mars is retrograde, and its challenges fall in her eighth house. That's the house of our bond with a mate, our sexuality, our deep psyches, and whatever they may repress or suppress. Eleanor was only 20 years old when she found herself a newlywed practically living with her matriarchal, tyrannical mother-in-law. Trends in society are ruled by the eleventh house: In 1905, the prim and proper Victorian era still very much influenced the American public's mores, and Sara came from a wealthy old New England family. That household arrangement must have been incredibly inhibiting and awkward for Eleanor's passionate, emotional and private Mars in Scorpio. She all but broke down at one point and told Franklin how difficult it was to live in a house that wasn't her own, and where she had no say. He promised things would change, but they didn't. Why didn't Eleanor insist that they move? She had a late-blooming eleventh house Mars, and she was only 20.
Fast forward to 1918: FDR was an assistant secretary of the Navy. When he contracted pneumonia while visiting naval bases in Europe, he came home. Eleanor was unpacking for him and discovered a cache of love letters written to him by her own social secretary, Lucy Mercer. Below is the chart of Eleanor's last Mars return before the discovery which would change the Roosevelts' future (eleventh house) forever.

(pre-letters Mars return, ER, Sept. 16, 1918, 9:50:46 a.m., New York, NY)

The return chart has a first house Mars that co-rules the Scorpio Ascendant, and is the focal point of a T-square with a tenth house Saturn in Leo and a stationary fourth house Uranus in Aquarius. Until finding Mercer's love letters, Eleanor's life had revolved around quietly supporting FDR, dealing with her mother-in-law, and bearing six children in 12 years. Look at that strong returning Mars in its own house, the house of the development of the will and of setting boundaries. Eleanor's Mars lies in taboo-breaking Scorpio, with its desire to cut through niceties and get to the deepest psychological truths of a situation. Look at the Uranian upheaval in the Mars return's fourth house and at the Saturnian sensitivity to the status quo in its tenth.
What did Eleanor do? Hurt and angry, she said she would divorce Franklin so he could marry Lucy, which apparently he'd been considering. However, the year was 1918. Sara told FDR that if he divorced Eleanor and shamed his relatives, she would cut him off without a penny. Franklin's political advisor, Louis Howe, told him that divorcing Eleanor would end his hopes for the White House and his entire political career.
Eleanor, therefore, had the upper hand in this conflict, after offering FDR a divorce he wanted but felt he couldn't accept. She may not have intended to put him in such a painful double bind; she may have been certain he'd divorce her for Lucy. However, Eleanor was a very intelligent woman, and the irony of the situation probably wasn't lost on her.
When Franklin chose to stay married, Eleanor agreed, under two (Scorpionic) conditions: one, she would never have sex with FDR again, and two, his relationship with Lucy Mercer would cease completely. It didn't: Eleanor would later discover that Mercer was present when Franklin died. Nonetheless, Eleanor was now considerably more free to do as she pleased with her life; her childbearing years were over, and the legal, public form of her marriage was secure.
Eleanor increasingly moved onto the world stage. She spoke out for workers' rights, civil rights and women's rights. She visited Allied troops and foreign dignitaries, wrote weekly and monthly newspaper and magazine columns, and urged Franklin not to incarcerate Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor and to allow more European Jewish immigrants to enter the United States. Before she died, she told one of her sons that her greatest regret was that she hadn't convinced Franklin to welcome more Jewish refugees to the U.S.
In the 1930s, African-American opera singer Marian Anderson enjoyed great success in Europe. In 1939, she wanted to give a concert at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., but its manager refused to book a date. The Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) owned the Hall, and their policies barred African-American artists from performing there. Below is Eleanor Roosevelt's Mars return chart immediately before the D.A.R.'s intransigeance:

(ER, Mars return pre-D.A.R. controversy, Jan. 12, 1939, 2:42:51 pm, New York, NY)

Not only did Eleanor resign from the D.A.R. (eleventh house) and explain why in her weekly column, she also arranged for Marian Anderson to give a concert at the base of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. The concert was broadcast across the country (a huge eleventh house group). Think of the symbolic value of the Lincoln Memorial as the concert site. The D.A.R. had been well and truly upstaged.
Look at the return chart's sixth house Mars. The sixth is the house of relationships that involve some sort of hierarchy or are otherwise unequal. Employees. Apprentices. Mentors. Chains of command. Caste systems are ruled by the sixth house, and in championing Marian Anderson, Eleanor was challenging a deeply entrenched American one.


We've examined several famous people's Mars returns to illustrate this article's premises.

1. Mars returns allow us a chance to develop our natal Mars further. They offer us challenges, assertiveness training, and opportunities to face our fears.
2. They refer to the house of natal Mars.
3. They tend to manifest in the house of the returning Mars.

Try casting your own Mars returns that predate your significant challenging events or adventures. What "midterm exams" has Mars given you over the years?

(1) Biography: Eleanor Roosevelt's Life. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Ann T. Keene. (n.d.). Arcaro, Eddie. Retrieved from

Apollo 13 (n.d.). Retrieved from

Apollo 13. (2009, July 9.). Retrieved from

Eleanor Roosevelt. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Eleanor Roosevelt (n.d.). Retrieved from

F.D. Roosevelt Spanish grip victim. (1918, September 20). The New York Times. p. 1A.

Whirlaway. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Jodie Forrest