An anonymous reader writes with news that Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft has launched
, taking the first step on its mission to travel to Phobos
, the larger of Mars' two moons. When (and if — see below) it lands on Phobos, the probe
will collect a soil sample and attempt to return it to Earth
"Russia’s Federal Space Agency said the craft separated successfully from the booster about 11 minutes later. ... The return vehicle is expected to carry up to 200 grams (7 ounces) of soil from Phobos back to Earth in August 2014. The $170 million endeavor would be Russia’s first interplanetary mission since Soviet times. A previous 1996 robotic mission to Mars ended in failure when the probe crashed in the Pacific following an engine failure."
Unfortunately, there appears to have been a problem with the launch
. Details are uncertain at this point, but the probe reportedly made it to orbit intact, and the mission is not necessarily ruined.