You probably thought the space race ended when America put a man on the Moon. If not, you probably thought it at least ended with the Cold War. Apparently you were wrong. The United States is still competing with Russia for dominance in space, and it’s become such a cutthroat battle that the US went so far as to sabotage Russia’s latest mission to Mars.
At least, that’s what the Russians claim. The head of the Russian Space Agency recently suggested that something may have happened to their Mars probe while it was in “the shadow.” The shadow supposedly refers to the far side of the planet, which from Russia’s perspective happens to be where the US is.
The Russian probe, named Phobos Grunt, was supposed to land on one of Mars’ moons and return to Earth carrying soil samples. For some reason, it failed to fire its rockets once in Earth orbit. This is the fourth time Russia has tried to send a probe to Mars and failed, while NASA keeps sending one rover after another. Phobos Grunt is expected to crash to Earth sometime this weekend.
So did the United States attack Russia’s probe? Did the US fear Phobos Grunt would steal some of the limelight from NASA’s latest Mars rover? Did the American government, which recently slashed NASA’s budget, still care enough to conduct secret operations against an unmanned Russian science mission?
As an American, I find this unlikely. Americans love international cooperation in space. The Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station both happened because of partnerships with other countries, and there’s a good chance the first humans on Mars will be part of an international team. We even put a Russian character on the bridge of the Enterprise. I for one was excited about Phobos Grunt and hoped the fourth time would be the charm.