Russian Craft's Quest: Grab Martian Moondust

Takes tiny creatures along for the ride
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2011 9:00 AM CST
Russia's Phobos-Grunt Craft Seeks Mars Moondust
The Martian moon Phobos is seen in an image released by NASA.   (AP Photo/HO/NASA)

A Russian spacecraft will depart for a Martian moon as soon as tomorrow. Its mission: to land on Phobos and collect soil to bring home to Earth, Scientific American reports. Researchers aim to learn about the moon’s development and composition. And should they discover ice or hydrated rocks, the 17-mile-long moon could be ultimately take on a new role: astronaut "base camp," writes Philip Boffey in the New York Times. The craft, called Phobos-Grunt, has some other objectives, too: It’s hauling a Chinese satellite—the country’s first Mars craft—which will orbit the planet.

Phobos-Grunt is also carrying a tiny canister full of earthly organisms, ranging from bacteria to water bears, which are small invertebrate creatures. The organisms, collectively called Phobos LIFE, are intended to help scientists figure out whether ancient organisms could have endured interplanetary travel via meteoroids. The mission is set to last three years; it’s Russia’s first attempt at a visit to the Red Planet in 15 years. (More Russia stories.)

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