Despite Signal, Russia’s Stranded Mars Probe May Come Crashing Back To Earth

The Russian Space Agency's most recent "sputnik" is looking grim. The unmanned spacecraft was supposed to reach Phobos, one of Mars’ moons. Though the probe's signal was picked up Wednesday after vanishing for two weeks

The Phobos-Grunt satelitte at launch
The Phobos-Grunt satelitte at launch
Ksenia Zavyalova

MOSCOW -- Phobos-Grunt, a Russian unmanned spacecraft that was supposed to collect soil samples on the Martian moon of Phobos, failed to even make it out of the Earth's orbit. It did, however, manage to phone home Tuesday. A tracking station in Perth, Australia picked up a signal of the marooned probe, though it is not immediately clear if the mission might still be salvaged.

Just prior to the renewed communication, Russian scientists were predicting that the spacecraft would fall back to Earth sometime between the end of December and February. So far, scientists involved in the project have refrained from saying which parts of the spacecraft might actually reach Earth. They are also not quite sure what went wrong, saying only that Phobos-Grunt is acting "unusual."

"It's very interesting to look at how it (Phobos-Grunt) has been behaving. There is fuel on board. If there is an explosion, that is one thing, but if it just starts to break apart, that's another altogether," said Vitaly Davidov, deputy director of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). Davidov went on to say that the capsule will certainly reach Earth when it falls.

Assuming that's the case, it will, however, return significantly smaller. At launch, Phobos-Grunt weighed 13.5 tons. On its return, the capsule is expected to weigh about 7 kilos. According to one Roscosmos representative, the returning capsule might fall "on somebody's head." In reality, though, that possibility is rather small.

Davidov said that the probe's exact landing spot would not be known until about 24 hours before it reaches Earth. "The atmospheric winds blow, the sun has different effects and the machine's direction can be effected by different factors, especially if it is not possible to control it," he clarified.

The troubled spacecraft was launched on Nov. 9 but quickly ran into problems with communication and failed to engage the second launch, which was supposed to propel it out of Earth's orbit towards Mars. The mission is Roscosmos' fifth high-profile failure in the past year. It is Russia's first interplanetary project since 1996, when like Phobos-Grunt, a similar probe headed for Mars but failed to leave Earth's orbit.

Read the original story in Russian

Photo - Roscosmos

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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