The International Space Station has cost tens of billions of dollars and taken more than a decade to put together. But the planet Mars already has a natural space station: Phobos, the larger of its two moons. In the decades ahead, it could serve as a base for Martian exploration. It provides a great view of the planet, it provides easy access to the surface, and it takes a lot less fuel to get to and from Phobos than to Mars itself. What's more, it's possible that the little moon contains a lot of frozen water, which would serve as a great resource for explorers.
Before Phobos can serve as a base, though, scientists need to know more about it. And an upcoming Russian mission could provide that information.
Phobos-Grunt -- "Grunt" is the Russian word for "soil" -- will land on Phobos and scoop up a few ounces of rocks and soil for return to Earth. After the sample capsule heads home, the base of the spacecraft will continue to study the moon. Its work will tell us more about what Phobos is made of.
The Russians don't have a great history when it comes to exploring Mars, though. Their last Mars mission crashed into the Pacific Ocean. And before that, a pair of probes designed to study Phobos both failed because of computer problems.
If they can make Phobos-Grunt work, though, they'll not only reveal much about this Martian moon -- they'll help pave the way for its use as a base for future Martian exploration.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009
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