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?
Worst Space Mission Name Ever
Worst Space Mission Name Ever (II)
The travails of the hapless Russian space probe Phobos-Grunt continue. In addition to being saddled with the worst space mission name ever, its mission has been beset by bugs and failures.
Since its launch last month, Phobos-Grunt has been circling the globe, largely incommunicado. With two brief exceptions, stations on Earth have been unable to exchange signals with the satellite, and the European Space Agency has stopped trying. Because no communication has occurred, Phobos-Grunt was not able to reach its intended orbit or fire the rockets necessary to send it on its trip to Mars and the Mars moon Phobos. Now the opportunity to reach Mars has passed, Phobos-Grunt’s orbit is unstable and decaying, and its likely fate is to come crashing back to Earth.
I’m not suggesting that all of the bad things that happened to Phobos-Grunt happened because it was cursed with an awful, uninspired name. However, I suggest that when the Russians are planning their next mission, they give some very careful thought to selecting a more uplifting name.
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?