Phobos 2  

The Russian people and their space scientists have seemingly always been fascinated with Mars’s larger moon Phobos, which is a captured asteroid, and fascinate at the prospect of building a manned base on the moon at some point in the future.

On July 7th, 1988, the Soviet Union launched its most ambitious deep-space exploration project to date. It consisted of two twin orbiters, based on the successful Venera design, but additionally carrying two different types of landers. Their mission was to explore in depth the martian moon Phobos, by delivering their landers and acquiring high-resolution images. In addition to the instruments they carried to image the moon, they also carried several instruments to study the Sun, the planet Mars, the interplanetary medium, and gamma-ray burst sources.

The probes, dubbed Phobos 1 and 2, are usually thought by Mars researchers to be failed missions. Surely, since Phobos 1 never even reached Mars, it could be considered as a failure. Yet it would be unfair to apply that designation to Phobos 2, since the probe survived Mars orbit insertion and was able to send back a total of 37 images before it disappeared, apparently due to mechanical failure.

Phobos 2 operated normally during its cruise phase, travelling the millions of miles from the Earth to Mars with no mechnical problems. It successfully gathered data about the Sun, Earth, Mars, and the interplanetary medium. On March 27, 1989, as it approached within 50 meters of the moon Phobos, it was set to drop a mobile “hopper” lander and a stationary platform. But just before doing so, contact was mysteriously lost. The Russians were never able to conclusively prove the exact reason for the failure, but the consensus was that the mission failed due to a malfunction of the onboard computer.

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