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It has been a ‘difficult night’ for the Russian spacecraft Phobos-Grunt, which was expected to collect soil samples from a Martian moon and return to Earth.

Things did not work out as planned and the mission may be, I’m afraid to say, over.

The spacecraft, named after the Martian moon Phobos and the Russian word for “soil,”  is believed to be stranded “in low Earth orbit” after a successful launch Tuesday. UPDATE: Scientists say they have three days to fix the problem. After that, no more Phobos-Grunt.

According to SpaceFlight Now (Thank goodness because I can’t read Russian and everything I’m finding is, of course, in Russian):

“Two rocket burns were supposed to propel the massive probe on a course toward Mars late Tuesday, but indications are the engine firings did not occur, according to Vladimir Popovkin, head of the Russian space agency.”

Discovery News is reporting:

The news is ‘no news’ from the spacecraft,” said planetary scientist Pascal Lee, with the Mars Institute. “No telemetry since separation. This is not good.”

Apparently, Mars has eluded Russia for quite a while. The BBC is reporting that,

Moscow has dispatched a total of 16 missions to the Red Planet since the 1960s. None has successfully completed its goals, with the most recent endeavor – the sophisticated Mars-96 spacecraft – being destroyed in a failed launch.

How sad. Doesn’t seem like Mars is in the cards for the Russian Space Agency. Well, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

Emily Lakdawalla of The Planetary Society blog just tweeted:
Best news is that Phobos-Grunt problem is one foreseen possible failure mode, for which they had already developed contingency plans.
It does not mean they have solved Phobos-Grunt problem, but does mean they know how to try to solve it.

Good luck, Phobos-Grunt. We’re crossing our fingers.