RUSSIAN President Dmitry Medvedev has threatened severe punishment for anyone found responsible for the failure of the space probe Phobos-Grunt, which is languishing in orbit around Earth when it should be on its way to Mars.
Or is it a failure? Conspiracy theorists suggest the spacecraft might in fact be a biological weapon that was meant to be used either against humans on Earth or aliens on Mars's moon, Phobos.
According to Reuters, Medvedev said at the weekend: "Recent failures are a strong blow to our competitiveness... we need to carry out a detailed review and punish those guilty.
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"I am not suggesting putting them up against the wall like under Josef [Stalin], but seriously punish either financially or, if the fault is obvious, it could be a disciplinary or even criminal punishment."
So who should Medvedev sue?
One of the more plausible reasons for Phobos-Grunt's failure has been suggested by a retired general who once led the country's ballistic missile early warning system. General-Lieutenant Nikolay Rodionov believes America's High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) site in Alaska is responsible for Phobos-Grunt's failure.
According to Russia Today, the general said: "The powerful electromagnetic radiation of those sites may have affected the control system of the interplanetary probe."
It is not known whether Rodionov believes the interference is intentional, but conspiracy theorists have long held that the facility, whose official purpose is to study the ionosphere with the aim of using it in communication, is actually a super-weapon which can cause 'natural' disasters such as earthquakes, climate change and the reversal of the magnetic poles.
The most interesting conspiracy theories, however, have nothing to do with the Americans.
The Register has dug up a deliciously paranoid video laying out the three most likely aims for the Phobos-Grunt mission - none of them, unsurprisingly, to study the Red Planet.
The probe was known to be carrying a number of microbes as part of a scientific experiment. 'UndercoverAlien' has posted a video on YouTube which explains why these microbes make Phobos-Grunt a biological weapon.
One bacterial sample on board is, apparently, an anthrax substitute, while a species of yeast the probe is carrying has been "associated with" cancer, Aids and Crohn's disease "to name but a few".
UndercoverAlien proposes three possible conspiracy theories which explain how these "highly lethal mutant bacteria" were meant to be used:
- The probe was designed to cause a "massive disaster" on earth;
- It was bound for Mars's moon Phobos, but was sabotaged by "the powers that be" who want to cause a disaster on earth;
- It is a weapon to be used against aliens who have hollowed out Mars's moon, Phobos, to create a space station. Russia has been waging an interplanetary cold war against these aliens for the past 40 years and this explains the incredibly low success rate of the country's missions to Mars - a record of failure so marked that it has been dubbed the 'Mars curse'.
Russian and European Space Agency scientists are currently attempting to communicate with Phobos-Grunt and salvage the mission. If they fail, the probe, mutant bacteria and all, will eventually fall back to Earth. Who knew the stakes were so high?
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