Undaunted by a record of near total failure at Mars, the Russian space agency will launch an ambitious mission next year to land on the planet’s moon Phobos and return soil samples to Earth.
The massive 8-ton Phobos-Grunt (“soil”) spacecraft, set for launch in October 2009, would be one of the most ambitious missions ever launched to Mars. It will also be the first Mars spacecraft launched by Russia since the ill-fated Mars 96 mission, which plunged into the Pacific Ocean.
If it works, Phobos-Grunt would be the first successful effort to return soil from a Martian moon. It would also reverse a nearly 50-year record of failure. Of 20 missions launched by the Soviet Union and Russia, not one was a complete success.
Anatoly Zak has a great story about Phobos-Grunt on the Air & Space Magazine website.