Russia is set to launch a robotic spacecraft to the Mars moon Phobos today (Nov. 8), marking the nation's first attempt at an interplanetary mission in 15 years.
The Phobos-Grunt mission is slated to blast off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome at 3:16 p.m. EST today (2016 GMT; 12:16 a.m. local time on Nov. 9). The main goal is to grab some dirt from Phobos' surface and return the samples to Earth in 2014 ("grunt" means "soil" in Russian).
If successful, Phobos-Grunt could shed a great deal of light on the early days of Mars and the solar system, experts say. It would also be a big morale boost for the Russian space program, which has suffered through the failure of three other Mars missions since the late 1980s.
"If Phobos-Grunt fully carries out its mission, then this will be a world-class achievement," Igor Lisov, editor-in-chief of the journal Novosti Kosmonavtiki (Space News), told Agence France-Presse. "The problem with Russian space exploration has been that people have forgotten the taste of victory. The task of this mission is to restore confidence in our abilities and the importance of the task." [Photos: Russia's Phobos-Grunt Mission to Martian Moon]