By Leah Crane
The InSight mole team tried to save the mole by pressing on it with the lander’s arm scoop, but ultimately couldn’t get it to dig down into Mars
NASAs mole on Mars has failed. After nearly two years of attempting to dig the InSight landers heat probe nicknamed the mole into the Red Planets surface, engineers have finally given up.
The InSight lander arrived on Mars in November 2018. Its main purpose is to study the planets deep interior in order to help us understand the history of the solar systems rocky worlds. The lander has three main instruments to help it do that: a seismometer to catch vibrations travelling through the ground, a radio to precisely measure Marss rotation and gain insight into its metal core, and a setup called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) to measure the heat flowing out of the planets centre.
The mole is a key part of HP3, a sort of self-hammering nail designed to burrow about five metres under the ground, deeper than any human-made device has dug on any rocky planet, moon or asteroid before. However, once the mole started its ill-fated burrowing attempts, the soil proved unexpectedly clumpy, so it did not provide the instrument with the friction it needed in order to dig.
The scientists and engineers working on the mission tried everything they could think of to get the mole into the ground, even pressing down on it with the scoop on InSights robotic arm. But nothing worked, so after a final attempt on 9 January the team has now ended their efforts.
Weve given it everything weve got, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible, said Tilman Spohn at the German Aerospace Center, the leader of the HP3 team, in a press release. Fortunately, weve learned a lot that will benefit future missions that attempt to dig into the subsurface. Researchers on future missions will understand the Martian soil better thanks to the many attempts to bury the mole.
While that particular instrument may not have worked, InSights other tools are performing well. The seismometer has already recorded nearly 500 marsquakes, and NASA has extended the mission until December 2022.
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By Leah Crane