OCT 20, 2019 6:09 AM PDT

InSight Lander's Stymied 'Mole' On the Move Again

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

NASA’s InSight mission touched down on the Martian surface just under a year ago and has since deployed a suite of scientific instruments to investigate the various internal mechanisms that make the red planet tick. But that’s not to say everything went according to plan…

InSight's Mole has successfully dug another two centimeters this week with the help of the lander's robotic arm.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

InSight’s Heat Flow package, an instrument that NASA likes to refer to as the ‘Mole,’ was expected to dig 16 feet below the planet’s surface in search of temperature fluctuations that could indicate an internal heat source. Unfortunately, the Mole encountered unforeseen technical difficulties during its descent, striking resistance beneath the planet’s surface. It was effectively stymied, compelling mission scientists to find a solution here on Earth.

It’s been a while since the Mole initially got stuck, but it now seems that there could be a light at the end of this dark and dreary tunnel. In a statement released by NASA just this week, the American space agency revealed how mission scientists successfully helped the mole’s descent progress by another two centimeters – keep in mind that the Mole had already excavated 75% of the way before getting stuck.

"Seeing the mole's progress seems to indicate that there's no rock blocking our path," commented Tilman Spohn, the principal investigator of the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package that shipped with InSight.

Related: NASA's InSight mission detects the first likely marsquake yet

While performing tests with a replica here on Earth, mission scientists purportedly found that the Martian soil that the Mole was attempting to dig through was ‘stronger’ than initially thought. In short, this means that the Mole’s designed method of digging wouldn’t be effective and that it would necessitate aid in the form of downward pressure to get itself moving again.

To achieve this, NASA commanded the InSight lander to maintain continuous pressure on the Mole with the scoop on the lander’s robotic arm as it attempted to dig. This positive pressure, a method referred to by NASA as ‘pinning,’ maintains enough friction for the Mole to break through the tougher soil underneath it, which it struggled to do in the first place.

The pressure isn’t downward, however. Instead, it’s lateral. NASA wants to create friction for the Mole so that its designed digging technique will work. Pushing down directly on the top of the Mole could potentially damage sensitive electrical connections, and while it would help the mole dig deeper, NASA is saving this method for an absolute worst-case scenario if all else fails.

"The mole still has a way to go, but we're all thrilled to see it digging again," added JPL engineer and scientist Troy Hudson. "When we first encountered this problem, it was crushing. But I thought, 'Maybe there's a chance; let's keep pressing on.' And right now, I'm feeling giddy."

Related: How is the InSight mission going so far?

It should now be interesting to learn whether the Mole will reach its expected 16-foot depth. After all, some of the most important Martian science of the decade may depend on getting this probe where it needs to be.

Source: NASA

About the Author
Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
AUG 24, 2022
Space & Astronomy
A Reflection on ALMA's Ground-Breaking Images of HL Tau
AUG 24, 2022
A Reflection on ALMA's Ground-Breaking Images of HL Tau
In 2014, astronomers began testing the new high-resolution capabilities of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Ar ...
SEP 14, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Looking Back in Space: NASA's Project Gemini
SEP 14, 2022
Looking Back in Space: NASA's Project Gemini
This series will explore historic space missions from the start of the Space Age to the present day, including both crew ...
SEP 24, 2022
Space & Astronomy
The James Webb Space Telescope Observes Neptune and its Rings
SEP 24, 2022
The James Webb Space Telescope Observes Neptune and its Rings
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has captured its first image of Neptune, and it is the clearest view of the planet ...
OCT 07, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Early Stellar Evolution Imprints in Stellar Oscillations
OCT 07, 2022
Early Stellar Evolution Imprints in Stellar Oscillations
A new study published in Nature Communications is shedding new light on the theory of stellar evolution. Astronomers at ...
NOV 16, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Where Did the Planets Go?
NOV 16, 2022
Where Did the Planets Go?
A new study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters presents a solution to some mysterious patterns that have sho ...
DEC 02, 2022
Space & Astronomy
What is Cosmic Radiation?
DEC 02, 2022
What is Cosmic Radiation?
Labroots recently covered a hibernation study that examines how this technology can potentially protect future astronaut ...
Loading Comments...