Russian Mars Probe Lands in Pacific West of Chile

Russian made Mars Lander Phobos-Grunt crashed into the Pacific Ocean a little more than 700 miles off the coast of Chile a few hours ago. The probe, which was originally intended to land on Mars’ moon Phobos broke into several fragments before it hit the water.

Phobos Grunt was launched as Russia’s most ambitious and costly space adventure since the times of the Soviet Union. The probe was estimated to cost more than $170 million dollars. When the Phobos Grunt first launched it got caught in Earth’s orbit and couldn’t escape.

The probe held 11 tons of highly toxic fuel it was to use to propel it towards Mars. It was completely unused when the probe got stuck. Originally there were fears that the probe’s toxic fuel could crash to Earth but the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, and NASA both calculated that the tank holding the fuel (which was made of aluminum) would melt down upon reentry.

The predecessor of the Phobos Grunt, Mars-96, experienced engine failure and crashed shortly after its launch in 1996. Its crash also concerned international observers because it contained 200 grams of plutonium on board. Coincidentally, it also crashed near Chile in the Andes Mountains.

The worst ever radiation spill from a failed space craft came in January 1978 when the nuclear-powered Cosmos 954 satellite crashed over northwestern Canada. The Soviets claimed the craft completely burned up on re-entry, but a massive recovery effort by Canadian authorities recovered a dozen fragments, most of which were radioactive.

Do you think greater care should be taken by international agencies to ensure dangerous materials don’t make it back to Earth on space missions like the Phobos Grunt?