Russia just finished its Mars500 simulation, proving that man can handle the arduous task of traveling to and from the Red Planet -- or at least it proved man can live in a confined space for 520 days with dodgy internet. However, Moscow needs to know a bit more about Mars itself before shooting citizens to our planetary neighbor, so it's sending a satellite to collect soil samples from one of its moons. The Russian satellite, named Phobos-Grunt, launched earlier today with the Chinese satellite Yinghuo-1 onboard as well. Both are bound for the Martian moon Phobos and are scheduled to arrive in September of 2012, whereupon Yinghuo-1 will be dispatched into orbit around Mars and Phobos-Grunt will begin maneuvering for its final descent onto the moon's surface. After landing, a robotic arm will examine some extra-terrestrial soil on site and gather 200 grams more to fire back to terra, where it's scheduled to touch down in Kazakhstan by August of 2014. If humans can get some Martian dirt back to Earth without incident, shouldn't be hard to do the same thing with a man, right?
Update: Well, that was quick. It looks like Phobos-Grunt may not be bringing back soil samples from Mars, folks. Apparently, the launch went off without a hitch, but after achieving Earth orbit, the engine needed to get it into deep space failed to fire. Right now the Russians are working on a fix, but Phobos-Grunt has just two weeks of juice in its batteries before it becomes space junk. Good luck, fellas, you're going to need it.
Russian and Chinese satellites going to Martian moon, plan to bring back some of the Red Planet (update: stranded in Earth orbit)
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