Mars Landing

Phobos-Grunt, We Hardly Knew Ye


Phobos-Grunt in a not-to-scale cut and paste.

Phobos-Grunt, the Russian probe to the larger of Mars' moons, appears to be stalled in the parking lot

The Phobos-Grunt probe blasted off successfully from the Baikonur cosmodrome overnight but did not manage to leave its Earth orbit as planned several hours later to go on its planned trajectory for Mars, the Russian space agency said.

Engineers now have three days to send the probe out to Mars while batteries last. The loss of the probe would be a disaster for Russia, which has not had a single successful planetary mission since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Quick clarification: Phobos-Grunt's failure would not in fact be a "disaster for Russia" any more than the bankruptcy of Solyndra has brought the United States to its knees. 

In his column yesterday, Ron Bailey discussed the terror of Phoban creepy-crawlies in the soil sample Phobos-Grunt was supposed to return:

The next sample return mission, the Russian Phobos-Grunt robotic lander, will launch tomorrow with the goal of landing on Mars' moon Phobos to scoop up and return a sample of its soil.

The reason for avoiding back contamination is pretty clear; we want to avoid an Andromeda Strain scenario in which an unleashed alien life form harms Earth life including people. 

The term "soil" is to be used with caution in discussing a potato-shaped celestial body with a total surface area about a third that of Los Angeles County. In any event it now appears that our snail darters and delta smelts will remain safe from arelunar contamination. 

Best wishes to the Russian space agency in trying to push the probe toward its destination. Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin calls the situation "non-standard" but not a "disaster." An anonymous source is, as anonymous sources tend to be, more pessimistic, saying there is almost no chance Phobos-Grunt will land on Phobos and telling Interfax, "Unfortunately, the worst predictions have come true." 

Clarification: There are always worse predictions


NEXT: It's Confirmation Bias All the Way Down*

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    1. We’re experiencing an unusually high volume of calls…

      *muzak Girl from Ipanema*

      1. My name is H&R.

  1. Government space agencies are outdated. Try, I don’t know, private enterprise, maybe? Might work better.


      1. The shiny, candy-like button!

    2. That’s why the Federation had a ship called Enterprise all of the time. In tribute to the private sector that opened up space. Too bad they all became soulless communists after Kirk died.



      2. Ironically, the original USS Enterprise was most famous for fighting against the private enterprises of the Barbaries.

        1. You mean pirates? I don’t think those are considered icons of entrepreneurship.

          1. I bet many pirates were/are great entrepreneurs. Just look at succesful drug gangs, they don’t get to the top by using stupid business practices. It’s just that the rules of their game is slightly different.

            1. Yes, well, getting blown up is part of that “business.”

              1. Don’t hate the players, hate the game.

                Obviously they use violence but they are still affected by market forces.

                1. I just meant that it wasn’t ironic that a ship named Enterprise was fighting pirates.

                  1. Arr, it be a fragile irony, I’ll grant.

  2. No, no, contamination is an issue. We should build a giant Moon base to process all of the materials we want to bring back.

    1. But then, ProL, there could be an explosion at the base that propels the Moon off into the galaxy. At a rate fast enough to encounter other solar systems. And doesn’t wreak utter havoc on Earth and itself because of the sudden gravity effects. And really, that explosion was totally huge enough to do this. Totally.

      1. Who are you to question British scientists and the guy who caught the One-Armed Man?

        My favorite Moon base has to be the one from U.F.O.

        1. I never understood the purple wigs…

          1. Those made the show!

      2. And remember that said explosion must happen on the dark side of the moon, yet still propel the moon away from the earth.

        1. Really, I’m not going to stand here and listen to our British allies be insulted.

          I liked the part when they’d go into temporary orbit around some planet at normal orbital velocities, then drift off at near-light speed (or FTL?) to go to other star systems.

          Then again, the Eagle rules. I want one of those when we have family spacecraft.

          1. I think the epicness of their physics FAIL on that show actually made it more watchable. You just turned off your brain when it came to the physics, and everything became more entertaining.

            1. I watched it first run as a kid and was young enough to not really get the full lack of physics at the time. But I knew something wasn’t right with that warp speed planetoid, even then.

              But I agree with your point. What’s great to me is how serious and quasi-cerebral it tried to be first season, despite absolutely no connection with the science of the 19th century, let alone the late 20th.

              1. The first thing I did when I got an electric guitar at nine or so was try to play the 1999 theme song, it took many years before I had that cool distortion, and I never did get a wah-wah pedal.

              2. It’s British television, dude. What do you expect?

                1. Hard science, like in the old Dr. Who?

                  1. Exactly.

                    1. What I know of physics I learned from Tom Baker, his hair, and his scarf. And I never even liked the show.

                    2. “To those who do not know Supermarionation it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature…”

                      -Richard Feynman, Thunderbirds fan.

                    3. You’re making that up!

                    4. I’m pretty sure I read that quote in a Howard Zinn book, The People’s History of Physics and Marionettes.

                    5. Well, that’s a surprise.

  3. One day, Man will gambol on Mars.

    Russian satellites > Tebow

    1. Primitivist hypocritically wearing technological space suit: ET, am I free to gambol about the Martian surface?

      ET: Go fuck yourself.

  4. I am often concerned about Andromeda Strain-type contamination from lifeless rocks that are only called moons because they’ve been captured in the gravity well of a planet. Often.

    Great book, though. Gripping yet almost entirely devoid of action.

    1. The original movie was fantastic. Not for everyone, though.

      1. Yeah, it was a rare two-fer: both the book and the movie were excellent.

      2. Oh I loved the orig movie! Haven’t seen it on TEEVEE in years. More’s the pitty.

        Fave part is when the woman scientist zones out at the flashing red light from the positive sample – “WAKE UP LADY! WAAAAAAKE UUUUUUP! YOU HAVE TO RUN AND TELL THE OTHERS!!!”

        1. Everyone was old, too. Just try and make a movie today where the youngest member of the cast looked to be about 45.

          I watched the A&E remake for a couple minutes, before being overcome some other kind of strain. I just kept vomiting and vomiting.

        2. That was probably the first ‘adult’ film I saw. That was because my grandfather got to be a extra in it. He was one of the dead townspeople. You can see him at 2:58. Gave my siblings nightmares. Pussies.

    2. Have you finished all of the A Song of Ice and Fire books yet? I started super late, and only just got to the last part of A Game of Thrones. Am I to expect more awesomeness?

      1. There is much more awsomeness. Except for Feast for Crows.

        Expect more brutality, too.

      2. Expect more death.

      3. In the first three anyway. Martin jumped the shark with Feast.

        1. I’m one of those people that doesn’t get put off by spoilers — willing to share a summary of why he jumps the shark? At least, what sort of thing is it that he does?

          1. The three most popular (and arguably plot-critical) characters didn’t appear in Feast, and the others wandered around semi-aimlessly.

            I wasn’t overly delighted with Dance, either… starting to fear Martin has done a Jordan and lost control of his story.

          2. He adds more characters who are boring like Brienne and the interesting plotlines, like Jon Snow, don’t get developed much or at all, it’s been a while, but I think that was it. Too many threads flying around and I don’t think he knows how to tie them back together.

  5. I’ve always been hoping to catch a glimpse of those Leather Goddesses of Phobos.

  6. cosmodrome

    Two aging hipsters enter, one leaves with slightly more tape on his glasses.

    1. Ok, that’s goddamned hilarious…

  7. Quick clarification: Phobos-Grunt’s failure would not in fact be a “disaster for Russia” any more than the bankruptcy of Solyndra has brought the United States to its knees.

    Give Obama time. So many green energy companies, so little time…

  8. Specifically, the flight system software on the Mars Climate Orbiter was written to calculate thruster performance using the metric unit Newtons (N), while the ground crew was entering course correction and thruster data using the Imperial measure Pound-force (lbf). This error has since been known as the metric mixup and has been carefully avoided in all missions since by NASA.

    Rocket scientists blow. Our money.

    1. Yeah. Should’ve run that through the simulator.

  9. Let’s hope that NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, launching Nov. 25, will not share the same fate.

    NASA does better when it sticks to the probe/exploratory model, and it’s best to leave future manned space flight to the private sector.

    1. /Curosity….rover…..probe./

      Heh heh heh heh.

      1. Private…..uhhh huh huh…huh huh….huh huh….private…

    2. NASA Everyone does better when it sticks to the probe/exploratory model, and it’s best to leave future manned space flight to the private sector sci fi movies.

  10. The Phobos Grunt should be commended for his efforts in stopping the flood of demons in the research facility.

  11. And in other news, NASA admits that private commercial spaceflight is cheaper and more efficient than government:

    1. I bet they could do even better than that if completely unfettered.

  12. Have they tried only firing it in reverse? Sometimes that works with Soviet Bloc cars.

  13. In Soviet Russia, spacecraft probes YOU!

    1. Yakoff! We missed you!

  14. It’s highly unlikely that a lifeform adapted to the surface of Phobos (extremely low pressure if not vacuum, no oxygen/nitrogen/water) would be able to survive on Earth.

    We bring creatures up from the deep sea vents all the time — an ecosystem that’s been separated from our own for billions of years — and they die immediately unless we put them in canisters that recreate the conditions they’re used to. Back-contamination is a joke.

  15. Who’s the Russian subcontractor? Union Aerospace? Those guys fuck up everything.

  16. Phobos-Grunt

    Great name for an ’70s British offshoot prog band. (Both Phobos and Grunt being former members of the more famous band, Rustic Vibes)

  17. The Russians can have Phobos. The US has already claimed the Snowman Craters on Vesta.

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