NASA’s InSight rover has dug its ‘mole’ about two centimeters into the surface of Mars, the space agency announced today. This process involved the spacecraft’s robotic arm, which is home to a heat probe NASA calls its ‘mole.’ The nickname refers to the probe’s purpose: it digs down into the ground to determine how much heat is escaping from the Red Planet’s interior.
Though the probe only dug around 3/4-inch into the Martian surface this time around, NASA says it was designed to go as deep as 16ft. The rover started digging its mole back in February but was only able to get partially buried in the time since. NASA says the new progress was made possible by a ‘new strategy.’
Experts figured out that ‘pinning’ the robotic arm enables the mole to dig down through the atypically strong Martian soil, something that would otherwise just bounce in place without making any progress. Over the course of three occasions, NASA says the mole hammered a total of 220 times, a process revealed by NASA in a newly shared GIF made from multiple still images.
The digging progress offers good news: NASA says there isn’t a rock blocking the mole, which was a previous possibility. The space agency says it may be forced to use the scoop to pin the top of the mole directly in the future, but that doing so is risky because the device is tethered to the instrument — that tether is responsible for both the power and the data relay.
One of the scientists and engineers working on the mole recovery, Troy Hudson, said, “The mole still has a way to go, but we’re all thrilled to see it digging again. 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.”