Failed Russian spacecraft falls into Pacific

An artist's rendering of the Russian probe Phobos-Ground, which was to explore one of Mars' two moons. But launch problems sent the spacecraft out of control. Russian Federal Space Agency

MOSCOW — A failed Russian space probe has crashed in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, showering fragments south of Chile's coast in a fiery plunge, the Russian military said in a statement.

The fragments of the Phobos-Ground landed in water 775 miles west of Wellington Island off the southern coast of Chile, according to a statement from the military Space Forces carried by Russian news agencies.

Space Forces spokesman Col. Alexei Zolotukhin said Russian tracking facilities were monitoring the probe's crash.

The Phobos-Ground was designed to travel to one of Mars' two moons, Phobos, land on it, collect soil samples and fly them back to Earth in 2014 in one of the most daunting interplanetary missions ever.

It got stranded in Earth's orbit after its Nov. 9 launch, and efforts by Russian and European Space Agency experts to bring it back to life have failed.

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The $170 million probe was one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth, but space officials and experts said the risks posed were minimal because its toxic rocket fuel and most of the craft's structure would burn up in the atmosphere anyway.

It was Russia's most expensive and the most ambitious space mission since Soviet times. Russia's space chief has acknowledged the Phobos-Ground mission was ill-prepared, but said that Roscosmos had to give it the go-ahead so as not to miss the limited Earth-to-Mars launch window.

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