Cosmic Fail! Biggest Space Flops of 2011

Russia's Progress Cargo Ship Crash

RSC Energia

August saw a major setback for Russia's space program when its normally dependable Soyuz rocket failed to launch an unmanned cargo ship to the International Space Station, sparking months of delays for crew and cargo deliveries to the orbiting laboratory.

The Soyuz rocket launched on Aug. 24, but its third-stage engine shut down unexpectedly, plunging the rocket and its attached Progress 44 cargo ship back to Earth. The vehicles crashed somewhere in Siberia.

A malfunction in a gas generator inside the third-stage rocket engine was later found to be the cause, and Russia resumed Soyuz rocket launches in the fall.

NEXT: Russian Mars Probe Falling From Space

Russia's Lost Mars Probe Phobos-Grunt

Michael Carroll

The last high-profile space failure of the year was Russia's beleaguered Phobos-Grunt mission, an ambitious plan to retrieve a sample of Mars' largest moon Phobos and return it to Earth. The 14.5-ton Mars probe launched on Nov. 8 but failed to fire its engine to leave Earth orbit and begin the trip to Mars.

After weeks of trying to salvage the spacecraft, Russian space officials said Phobos-Grunt had missed its window to depart for Mars. The spacecraft, which is also carrying China's first Mars orbiter, is expected to fall back to Earth by early January 2012. [Phobos-Grunt Mars Mission Photos]

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.