NASA's Mole Finally Burrows Its Way Into Mars

Jennifer Leman
·2 min read
Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

From Popular Mechanics

Since NASA's Insight Lander plopped down on Mars's surface in 2018, it has revealed new insight—pun intended—into the inner workings of the red planet. The lander has captured evidence of seismic activity and exposed strange sounds that the planet makes. It even recorded the first "Marsquake" in April 2019.

One instrument, though, has had a difficult time breaking through the surface. The lander's temperature-sensing "mole," as it's known, was designed to take thermal readings just below Mars's surface, but it has struggled to stay inserted in the ground. It keeps pushing out.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR), which is in charge of operating the instrument, has been toiling away at a solution. For months, the DLR team has been pushing down on the thin probe with the back of the lander's scoop. Finally, after spending more than a year of tinkering with the troublesome instrument, DLR has inserted the mole.

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Researchers previously wondered if there was a rock that might be blocking the mole's path. That doesn't seem to be the problem, DLR Instrument Lead Tilman Spohn reported June 3 in a blog post. It's likely a case of the probe not having enough friction to adequately dig on its own.

Next, DLR will conduct another round of hammering and then see if the mole is able to dig on its own in a "free-Mole" test. If that test doesn't work and the mole isn't able to dig deeper by itself, the scientists plan to either fill the hole with more Martian dirt to increase friction or again push on the mole with the tip of the scoop.

As if that weren't enough, DLR is also battling the approach of dust storm season on Mars. Any actions the team takes could be hampered by dusty solar panels, Spohn wrote.

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