NASA has run into an issue on the surface of Mars with one of the instruments on the InSight probe. The instrument is part of a tool called the “Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package” but is informally known as the mole. Mole possibly hit rock shortly after deployment in March and has been sitting unable to dig since then.
NASA has now used the InSight lander’s robotic arm to remove the support structure around the mole to allow engineers on the ground to get a better look at the instrument. The hope is that with the mole uncovered engineers will be able to figure out how to help the instrument to dig.
The goal is to get the mole at least 16-feet under the surface of Mars to take internal temperature readings. So far, the mole has only reached a depth of 12-inches due to hitting rock. The self-hammering probe was told to stop hammering and await further orders. Testing has been conducted at JPL along with the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
The team thinks that one issue is that the soil the mole is surrounded by might not provide the sort of friction that the mole was designed for. If the soil lacks the friction the mole needs, the self-hammering action would cause the mole to bounce in place rather than dig. The team says that it wants to press on the soil near the pit that has formed around the mole as it has been hammering in place with the robotic arm and collapse the pit to give the traction needed for the mole to dig.
The team says that there is a chance that the mole has hit rock. If a rock is blocking the mole, the arm won’t be able to lift the mole now that it’s out of its support structure. The team plans to bring a camera in for a more detailed look at the mole later in the month.