Contact Made With Missing Russian Mars Probe

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The European Space Agency (ESA) established contact with Russia's lost Mars probe, the first time a signal has been received from the craft since the botched launch earlier this month, the ESA said Wednesday.

The contact was made at 20:25 GMT at the ESA's tracking station in Perth, Australia, the statement said.

"This was the first signal received on Earth since the Mars mission was launched on 8 November. ESA teams are working closely with engineers in Russia to determine how best to maintain communication with the spacecraft," the Paris-headquartered agency said.

Russian space agency Roscosmos had all but given up on hope of regaining contact with the probe and feared that it may crash back down to Earth sometime in January.

"There is little chance that we will be able to achieve this mission," the deputy head of Roscosmos, Vitaly Davydov, was quoted as saying Tuesday by the Itar-Tass news agency. "We need to be realists. Since we could not establish contact for so long, the chances to carry out this expedition right now are very slim."

The unmanned Phobos-Grunt spacecraft blasted off toward the Red Planet, where it was hoped to bring back rock and soil samples from the moon Phobos.

But its engines failed to put in the correct course, and the craft only managed to reach an orbit about 125 miles from Earth.