The Mars 96 mission was launched on November 16, 1996. The rocket carring the spacecraft lifted off successfully, but as it entered orbit the rocket's fourth stage ignited prematurely and sent the probe into a wild tumble. It crashed into the ocean somewhere between the Chilean coast and Easter Island. The spacecraft sank, carrying with it 270 grams of plutonium-238 that was used as part of its energy source.
Mars 96 consisted of an orbiter, two soft landers, and two surface penetrators that were to be used to study the Red Planet. The orbiter include: 12 instruments; seven plasma measuring instruments; and three astrophysics instruments. Additional instruments were to be located on the landers and penetrators which would have conducted measurements at the surface.
Mars 96 was to study the evolution of Mars, with special emphasis on studying the atmosphere, surface and interior. The spacecraft was to create a high-resolution map of the surface and conduct measurements that would identify mineral deposits, surface composition, and crust structure. The spacecraft was to measure seismic activity, magnetic fields, and heat flow while searching for active volcanos. Scientists were going to monitor the martian climate, obtain data on variations in atmopsheric pressure, composition, and temperatures.
Scientists were to use Mars 96 to conduct plasma and astrophysics investigations. The plasma experiments included measuring the martian magnetic field, plasma wave characteristics, and the structure of the magnetosphere. The astrophysics investigations included studying cosmic gamma ray bursts and the oscillations of the Sun and stars.