We’re used to aspirational, almost lyrical names for space missions. Names like Voyager, Pioneer, Mariner, and Galileo evoke the wonder of exploration and discovery.
That’s why the latest space mission to make the news is such a clinker. It’s a Russian effort, and it’s called Phobos-Grunt. That’s right: Phobos-Grunt. Not quite in the same league, is it?
It turns out that “grunt” is the Russian word for soil, so the mission name is functional: the plan is for the Russian probe to travel to the Martian moon Phobos, grab some soil, and return. Unfortunately, “grunt” doesn’t exactly have great connotations in English. Any word that conjures images of straining, probably overweight guys working on a loading dock isn’t calculated to inspire. I suppose it’s better than Phobos-Belch, and other body sound options, but that’s about it.
Unfortunately for the Russians, after the Phobos-Grunt probe was launched, it seems to have shut down. According to the first article linked above, it’s not responding to signals to leave orbit and start on its journey to Mars. Could it have died of embarrassment?