While the United States celebrated a milestone year of exploration of the Red Planet, Russian scientists lamented the loss of a $160 million probe designed to recover soil from Mars’ moon, Phobos. On January 17, two months after it’s launch, the Phobos-Grunt probe crashed into the Pacific Ocean. After its initial launch, its upper-stage boosters failed to fire, and the craft never reached Earth’s orbit.
The mission was originally suspected to have been sabotaged, an allegation levelled by Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency. Another official claimed the probe had been disabled by a U.S. radar station. But a Roscosmos investigation concluded in February that the failure was the result of a software crash.
Phobos-Grunt’s collision continued the trend of failed Mars missions from the Russians. Russia lost contact with two of it’s probes in 1988, one bound for Mars and one for Phobos, and again in 1996, when it’s Mars 96 orbiter also failed to escape Earth’s atmosphere. However, Marcia Smith of the Space and Technology Policy Group in Virginia noted that Roscosmos did successfully launch the Mars Express probe alongside the European Space Agency in 2002,
“When it comes to their own Mars efforts, they’re just jinxed.”