One of the most interesting interplanetary spacecraft has failed before starting its voyage to Mars. It was going to land on Phobos, dig a piece and bring it back to Earth. It also carried Earths's life for a very clever experiment.
But don't cry yet, my fellow spacenerds, there's a glimmer of hope.
The Phobos-Grunt launched successfully on board a Zenit-2SB rocket, reaching Earth orbit successfully. The problem happened when it tried to fire the engine that would put it on course to the Red Planet's orbit. It failed. Now, Russian scientists are trying to restart the engine. They have three days to achieve it before the batteries run out. According to Vladimir Popovkin — director of the Russian space agency — it's not yet a failure, "it's a non-standard situation, but it is a working situation."
This was Russia's first interplanetary mission in more than two decades, and one of my favourites in recent time. Not only it was going to bring a chunk of Phobos back to Earth — which on itself could be an amazing achievement — but it was carrying 10 of Earth's toughest microbes. Rather than looking for traces of life there, the experiment wanted to test if the organisms could live on extreme conditions. This could have demonstrated that life could travel across space on asteroids and rocks ejected after planetary collisions.
I hope they could recover it. It makes me sad not only because we wouldn't be able to see the results of these two experiments, but also because Russia always has such bad luck with mission to Mars. Almost all of them have failed miserably: only four out of 18 missions have seen very limited success. Talking to Reuters before the launch, the Phobos-Grunt leading scientist Alexander Zakharov said: "We have always been very unlucky with Mars."