Russia tries to get it up as astronauts deny doing the same

Russia’s Deep Space program lost its libido as the eighties came to a close. The last time they got it up and out beyond Earth orbit was on the 12th of July 1988 with Phobos 2. They tried another time in 1996 with Mars 96, but failed to leave Earth orbit. Indeed, while the shuttle has been preparing for retirement and Soyuz becomes the transport of choice for human spaceflight, Russia’s Federal Space Program is notable for not having even ESA’s level of launches into deep space. This time they’re headed back, with the Phobos-Grunt mission, also headed to that satellite of Mars. Phobos-Grunt, which aims to drop onto the surface, with a couple of thrusters providing extra sticking power, will be gathering material from that surface and bringing it back. The mission has been heavily delayed – first by the collapse of the Soviet Union, then by the economic problems that followed, then by the time required to develop the mission to modern standards when the money became available, and finally due to missing the 2009 Mars launch window. The next window is 2011 and the team behind the mission are confident of hitting it.

One set of people never accused of dawdling about on the ground when they could be out there are astronauts. However, they’ve been denying any reports that the long night of space or the myriad of sunsets watched above crystal clear skies have translated into the 100+ mile high club. Space Shuttle Discovery commander Alan Poindexter broke the heart of many a colleague when he stated that those on the International Space Station were professionals and that their working relationship was such that not only had other relationships never happened, but they never would. He also stated that it was far too cramped up there for anything to happen. Which rather sounds like something you’d only know after trying and failing to me…

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