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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Gears for Extensive Mars Probe

Russia on Monday moved a step closer to making an unmanned flight to Mars by sending a 6-ton Mars-96 probe to the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan.

Igor Tshevelyov, a spokesman for the Lavochkin scientific space center which produced the probe, said it was flown out of Moscow for tests ahead of a Nov. 16 launch.

The probe will take 300 days and travel 100 million kilometers to reach the Red Planet, where a section will separate and land to collect new data about soil and climate.

Alexander Moisheyev, the craft's deputy head designer, said last week two drilling devices would examine Mars' surface to a depth of up to 5 meters, beaming information back to the probe orbiting the planet.

It will be the first deep-space voyage in eight years for Russia's cash-strapped space sector. This flight was originally scheduled for 1994, but was postponed due to cash shortages.

Moisheyev said 20 countries, including the United States, were helping to fund the mission, although 70 percent of all components were built in Russia.

The former Soviet Union first started surveying Mars at the start of the 1960s, and two probes took photographs of the planet in 1971. But devices launched in 1973 never reached their destination, and the Mars program was frozen as too expensive.

Another probe, Fobos, was launched in 1988 but failed to arrive. The Soviet Union made 20 launches to Mars, but only eight were successful.