THE LAST COUNTDOWN?

A FAILED MARS PROBE AND TWO LOST SPY SATELLITES MAY PRESAGE THE END OF RUSSIA'S VAUNTED SPACE PROGRAM

For the Russian space program, the comeback was supposed to begin this month. Ever since the fall of communism, the agency that gave the world Sputnik, Gagarin and the space station Mir appeared to have fallen too, with slashed budgets leading to fewer launches and worried whispers in the international community that even those missions were dangerously underfinanced. Lately, however, Russia has been funneling all its space resources into the launch of its Mars '96 probe, an unmanned spacecraft designed to orbit the Red Planet, dispatch a quartet of landers to the surface and, perhaps most important, return the country to...

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