Exploring the Solar System

Failed Mars Missions

What were the Mars 96 and Phobos-Grunt missions?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian space program had designed Mars 96 as the centerpiece program of the new Russian Space Agency. It consisted of an orbiter, two small space stations for landing on the Martian surface, and two penetrating probes to bore into the surface and examine the underground environment of the planet. The spacecraft carried numerous scientific instruments for studying the Martian surface, and magnetic field. Launched on November 16, 1996, Mars 96 failed to reach orbit. As the spacecraft flew over the Atlantic Ocean, the launcher’s fourth rocket stage failed to fire. The spacecraft crashed into the south Pacific, near South America.

The Russian Space Agency did not launch another mission to Mars until November 2011. The Phobos-Grunt mission was planned to send a spacecraft into Martian orbit, land a probe onto the Martian moon Phobos, and bring rock samples from Phobos back to Earth for scientific study. It is too bad that the probe’s main rockets failed to fire while it was still in low Earth orbit, and mission controllers on the ground were unable to get them going. Photobs-Grunt fell back to Earth on January 15, 2012, somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere; its pieces were not recovered.


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