A weapon probably didn't cause Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft to fail (it's set to enter Earth's orbit next week), but that's a better story than than saying you built space junk. It also makes for a saucy newspaper story, as The New York Times ran with the headline "Russian Official Suggests Weapon Caused Exploration Spacecraft’s Failure" today along with warnings like this: "When the 13-ton Phobos-Grunt breaks up in the atmosphere, debris could potentially fall anywhere along a vast stretch of the Earth’s surface that includes the cities of New York, London and Tokyo." The "vast stretch of the Earth's surface" also includes infinitely less sexy and less destructive destinations compared to to the cities The Times mentions, like the gigantic bodies of water that cover 70 percent of the planet's surface or Antarctica. "We don’t want to accuse anybody, but there are very powerful devices that can influence spacecraft now," said Vladimir Popovkin, director of the Russian space agency Roscosmos said in an interview yesterday, noted The Times. "The possibility they were used cannot be ruled out." That too sounds like an awfully fun way of wanting to pumping up a story. The Times tempers Popovkin's non-accusation accusations with a more sensible explanation for "another embarrassment for Roscosmos"--launched in November, Phobos was initially planned to be a two-and-a-half year interplanetary journey :
Mr. Popovkin also suggested that equipment on the spacecraft may have broken down while the vehicle was stored on the ground, waiting for the time when Earth and Mars would be in the right places in their orbits for the mission to proceed, something that happens only every two years. “If we had not sent it to Mars in 2011, we would have had to throw it away,” he said of the craft.