Russia's mission to Mars moon risks failure
Published 10/11/2011 | 05:00
A Russian spacecraft designed to bring back soil samples from one of the moons of Mars veered off course yesterday after its launch, clouding hopes that Russia could pull off its first interplanetary mission in more than two decades, writes Alissa de Carbonnel.
Russian space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin said an engine failed to fire on the unmanned Phobos-Grunt probe after it reached Earth's orbit, leaving Moscow with just two weeks to fix the problem before a window for reaching Mars closes.
Space officials initially said the craft had only three days of battery power left, but later said it could remain operational for two weeks. But they worried the 12.5-tonne craft could plunge from its low orbit into Earth's atmosphere in days.
The mission to bring back a sample of soil -- "grunt" in Russian -- from the Martian moon Phobos was supposed to reassert Russia's place at the front line of space exploration.
Failure would be a major blow to the pride of Russia's space industry.