10:16 Pacific, just two hours away form the first phase of the infamous Red Mars project. If all goes well with this sample return from Phobos ("Grunt" is Russian for "soil") then the beachhead is created for instantaneous telerobotics on the Mars surface rather than hours-delayed rovers "manned" from cushy Pasadena.
Sample return is the big story but being downplayed is the "Red Mars" teamup of Russia with China (the Yinghou-1 orbiter is being ferried on the craft) plus a load of living microbes to study Radiation effects beyond LEO is a pretty hefty bulletpoint. Sample return and earth-life experiments are both years or decades in advance of what us smart Americans will ever do beyond LEO, though we've been talking and talking about both since the 70s.
And word is that the cost was well less than a single billion. Less than anyone but SpaceX can do 'round these parts.
Funny thing... did you notice that when it appeared 100% true that the Russians could actually pull this off, the front page of Space News shouted: "ESA [and NASA, duh] Formally Invites Roscosmos To Join ExoMars Mission as Full-fledged Partner." Yep, just like MIR going down to keep ISS alive, get them tied up in an expensive fiasco and get them off track... hopefully this time the answer will be NYET!.
That time the Russians needed our money badly, their economy had just collapsed. But this time it is ESA [NASA] that has no piggy bank and we need their Protons and hundreds of millions... but they don't need us.
Wha'daya say? 8 years form now there are Chinese Humans sitting in Russion Phobos habs testing their first Human drop missions, while NASA and ESA hail the creation of another robot to give us all television boredom. And our joblessness is about 22% and we have 5 of the 8 billion people on our shores - with no hope to get any higher. Bet a buck?
Even if Phobos Grunt flames on the pad, today is the start of a true slap in the face. Bring it on!
Read up on Phobos Grunt at Russia Space Web