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Russian Scientists Try to Save Space Probe to Mars

Federal Space Agency chief Vladimir Popovkin (May 2011 file photo).

Federal Space Agency chief Vladimir Popovkin (May 2011 file photo).

Russian scientists are trying to revive an unmanned spacecraft that remains stuck in low earth orbit, after the craft went awry within minutes of its Wednesday launch.

Russia's space agency says scientists have failed to establish contact with the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which was headed for the Martian moon Phobos and also carried a Chinese satellite to be placed in orbit around Mars.

The agency says it may have only three days to fix the problem and steer the $165 million craft on its correct path.

But some experts say there is little hope of recovering the mission, and that it could already be lost.

The probe may come crashing down to Earth in a few weeks if engineers fail to fix the problem, which is related to the craft's flight computer.

The inter-planetary spacecraft took off from Kazakhstan Wednesday and separated from its Zenit-2SB rocket about 10 minutes later, before the mishap occurred.

Russia's Space Agency chief Vladimir Popovkin said the spacecraft twice failed to fire its engines. The engines were needed to send the craft out of earth orbit and toward Mars.

Plans called for the spacecraft to reach Mars in October of next year, and land on Phobos, the larger of Mars' two asteroid-like moons, in early 2013 before returning to Earth with soil samples in 2014.

The goal of the Phobos-Soil mission was to collect soil from the Martian lunar surface and return it to Earth.

Two Russian missions to Phobos in 1988 and a Martian lander mission in 1996 never reached their destinations. Experts had said Russia hoped a successful Phobos-Soil mission would help boost the reputation of its pioneering space program.

Only the United States, Japan and the European Space Agency have succeeded in carrying out scientific missions beyond Earth’s moon.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.