NASA will use Mars InSight lander’s robotic arm to push its ‘mole’

Brittany A. Roston - Feb 21, 2020, 2:48pm CST
NASA will use Mars InSight lander’s robotic arm to push its ‘mole’

NASA is ready to take more drastic actions to help the ‘mole’ instrument that has been attempting to burrow into the Martian surface for around a year. The mini pile driver is part of the InSight Mars lander, which is equipped with a robotic arm and a variety of other instruments. The plan? NASA says its team will use the lander’s arm to push on the mole, hopefully helping it dig down through the surface.

The mini pile driver that NASA calls the ‘mole’ is a small instrument designed to hammer itself down through the Martian surface; the device measures 16-inches in length and it is connected to the lander by a tether. This spike was designed to self-hammer its way to depths as far down as 16ft, which would enable the lander to take heat measurements from below the surface.

There was a problem, however. The Martian soil appears to be harder than expected, resulting in troubles for the mole. NASA explains that this device has nearly buried itself and backed up out of the hole multiple times over past months. After around a year without a solution, the space agency has decided to do something it has thus far avoided: it’ll push on the spike using the robotic arm.

NASA has elected to avoid this method until now due to the sensitive tether connected to the spike. By pressing on the device, the team may inadvertently damage this hardware, bringing an end to the mole’s mission before it started. There aren’t any other choices left at this time, however, so the team is willing to take the risk.

As demonstrated in the image above, NASA has used an engineering model version of the InSight rover located on Earth to test the effects of pushing the mole. This process will soon be carried out with the versions located on Mars; the team will use the robotic arm’s scoop to carefully push on the mole’s back cap while avoiding the sensitive tether.

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