InSight Mars lander has a heat flow probe setback

NASA has announced that the Insight Mars lander has run into an issue with one of its instruments. The instrument is the heat flow probe, also known as the mole. In an image that NASA released, the probe can be seen sticking out of the ground.

The mole has an internal hammer that was designed to make thousands of strokes, slowly pushing it deeper into the surface of Mars. Earlier this year, the instrument became stuck after reaching only 30cm below the surface. The depth goal for the instrument was 5 meters.

NASA engineers spent months trying to figure out how to get the mole moving again. Earlier this month, they had success with using the scoop on the end of the lander's robotic arm to pin the mole to one side of the hole to increase friction and try to get the probe moving again. Progress had continued after the robotic arm was moved.

On October 25th, the team had ordered the mole to perform two sets of 150 strokes of the hammer. The hammering motion had the opposite effect that the team had hoped for pushing the mole out of the hole about halfway compared to where it had been previously.

The InSight team said that a preliminary assessment points to unexpected soil properties as the main reason the probe backed out of the ground. One possible reason for the probe to have backed out is that soil is filling the hole in front of the mole. Despite setbacks with the mole, NASA says that the emission is functioning very well and that the mole wasn't a Level 1 requirement for mission success. The mole was one of the two main instruments on the mission along with the seismometer, which is functioning well.