Poor Phobos-Grunt! Saddled with the worst space mission name ever — one that evokes images of sweaty, cursing, truss-wearing longshoremen, rather than the lofty aspirations of space exploration — it soon will cease to be.
Scientists say Phobos-Grunt will hit Earth’s atmosphere on Sunday. The star-crossed probe is expected to explode and break into little pieces that burn up on re-entry. Scientists are confident that the chances are vanishingly small that any remaining bits of junk could injure any unsuspecting human going about his business.
How can scientists be confident about anything when it comes to Phobos-Grunt? It has been the biggest space exploration flop in years. After liftoff, it never performed as designed and didn’t even make it to its intended Earth orbit, much less to Mars. Given that record of utter and ignominious failure, why do we think Phobos-Grunt will go gently into that good night? Isn’t it more likely that Phobos-Grunt will, consistent with its dismal name and even more disastrous record, do something that will cement its reputation as the greatest space fiasco in history — like plow into a bus of sightseeing nuns or knock off Washington’s nose on Mount Rushmore?
Say, are there any planned meetings of world leaders on Sunday?