The Russian space probe headed for Mars’ moon Phobos has stalled in Earth’s orbit after one of its rockets failed to fire. The Russian space agency has three days to reorient the craft before it loses battery power. The failure is another in a long list of mishaps that have cursed Russia’s ambitions to explore Mars and its satellites. In fact, not one of 18 Soviet and Russian missions sent to the Red Planet has been fully successful. Within the next two weeks, the U.S. will launch another rover to explore the Martian surface, its biggest one to date.
What’s the Big Idea?
If the Russian mission to Phobos fails, it will be a great loss. Besides collecting soil samples, the probe is carrying ten of Earth’s most hearty and resistant bacteria. The experiment is called L.I.F.E. (Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment) and was designed to determine if especially resistant life forms can endure the cold vacuum of space long enough to travel to another planet. If successful, it might help us understand whether life came to Earth from another source or if life from our planet might have traveled elsewhere.