InSight lander from NASA is starting to annoy scientists. Most of its sensors are working fine, and they found a lot of useful data, but there’s one instrument that does not meet the requirements and fails to meet the expectations.
This “mole” probe that was supposed to dig deep in the surface of the planet in order to see more about the temperature could not dig as deep as it was supposed to. It didn’t even get close to reaching the maximum depth of 16 feet – it only went about 1 foot inside the surface before it completely stopped.
The team behind the mission firstly thought that the lander could not get a grip on the Martian soil, which was looser than expected. In order to solve that problem, the lander removed the protective material, which was used as a cover, and used its robotic arms in order to pin the mole against the side of its hole. It seemed to work at first because it gave it more traction.
However, after it dug about an inch, the mole pushed back. The team has an idea of why this happened, but they are still a bit disappointed. An instrument system engineer from InSight, Troy Hudson, stated that the hole probably filled up with material that was loose after the robotic arm stopped the pinning technique. When that happens, the loose soil in front of the mole ca get in front of the tip, and it fills up the space that appears when it bounces. And when it bounces, more material fills in.
The team is now using the lander’s arm to push the mole into the hole. But that won’t last for long. After the body of the mole is entirely beneath the surface, they will need to find a new way to keep up the digging.