It seems Russia just can’t catch a break, at least as far as Mars is concerned. Its latest venture to the Red Planet, the Phobos-Grunt probe, has stalled out in Earth orbit almost certainly dead, and it’ll probably crash back to our planet.
Unfortunately for Russia (as well as China and the Planetary Society, which both had scientific cargo aboard Phobos-Grunt), the probe’s boosters didn’t fire after launch, for still unknown reasons. It’s now too late for the mission ever to reach Mars, and the hardware itself will likely return to Earth in the coming months. Such a crash landing would be unusually dangerous, partly because of its unpredictability and partly because of the toxic fuel still aboard.
Space enthusiasts and scientists are not only disappointed, but some interested parties are, apparently, pretty angry. “We need to carry out a detailed review and punish those guilty,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said this weekend, according to Reuters. He’s considering criminal punishment, but reassuringly suggested stopping short of putting anyone “up against the wall.”
It’s easy to forget sometimes just how difficult these missions are, and sometimes NASA and the European Space Agency (and others) make it look easy. Phobos-Grunt may be one more casualty of the rigors of space travel, but with any luck, it’ll be one of the last.