'Toxic' Russian Mars probe finally crashes to Earth

   Jan 16, 10:38 am

Washington, Jan 16 (ANI): The doomed Russian Mars probe that had remained stuck in the Earth's orbit for two months finally came down in flames Sunday, showering fragments into the south Pacific west of Chile's coast, officials said.

Pieces from the Phobos-Ground landed in water 775 miles west of Wellington Island in Chile's south, the Russian military Air and Space Defense Forces said in a statement carried by the country's news agencies.

The military space tracking facilities were monitoring the probe's crash, its spokesman Col. Alexei Zolotukhin said.

Zolotukhin said the deserted ocean area is where Russia guides its discarded space cargo ships serving the International Space Station, Fox News repoted.

A news agency, however, cited Russian ballistic experts who said the fragments fell over a broader patch of Earth's surface, spreading from the Atlantic and including the territory of Brazil. It said the midpoint of the crash zone was located in the Brazilian state of Goias.

The170 million dollar craft was one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth, but space officials and experts said the risks posed by its crash were minimal because the toxic rocket fuel on board and most of the craft's structure would burn up in the atmosphere high above the ground anyway.

The Phobos-Ground was designed to travel to one of Mars' twin moons, Phobos, land on it, collect soil samples and fly them back to Earth in 2014 in one of the most daunting interplanetary missions ever. It got stranded in Earth's orbit after its Nov. 9 launch, and efforts by Russian and European Space Agency experts to bring it back to life failed.

Prof. Heiner Klinkrad, Head of The European Space Agency's Space Debris Office that was monitoring the probe's descent, said the craft didn't pose any significant risks.

"This one is way, way down in the ranking," he said in a telephone interview from his office in Berlin, adding that booster rockets contain more solid segments that may survive fiery re-entries.

The Phobos-Ground weighed 14.9 tons, and that included a load of 12 tons of highly toxic rocket fuel intended for the long journey to the Martian moon of Phobos and left unused as the probe got stranded in orbit around Earth. (ANI)

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