As NASA prepares for the November 25 launch of America’s next mission to Mars, the recent experience of the joint Russian-Chinese Phobos-Grunt probe (pictured) is a poignant reminder of how many missions to the Red Planet have ended in failure.
With the conclusion of NASA’s space shuttle program on July 21 of this year, renewed attention is being given to the Russian Federal Space Agency (often called Roscosmos). The United States is now dependent on the Russian Soyuz for transporting NASA’s astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Time magazine has even declared the current period to be “America’s Soyuz Era” — a stunning turn of fate for a nation that once triumphed over the Soviet Union in the race to the moon. But the significance of the U.S. manned space program relying on the Russian space agency is highlighted when one considers the relative success of the two nations in the realm of unmanned space exploration.
Russia’s Phobos-Grunt probe was launched on November 8, but has thus far failed to leave Earth orbit. With the window of opportunity for the probe to successfully reach Mars quickly coming to a close, a last ditch effort is underway to get the mission on its ten-month journey to Phobos, one of moons of Mars. According to a story for The Telegraph, Roscosmos director Vladimir Popovkin denied that Phobos-Grunt is “lost” at this point:
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