NASA’s Mars InSight scoop workaround video raises hope for mole success

Brittany A. Roston - Jul 7, 2020, 4:09 pm CDT
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NASA’s Mars InSight scoop workaround video raises hope for mole success

Weeks after performing a risky workaround maneuver to get its InSight rover ‘mole’ tool working, NASA has offered an update on the plan — it will soon remove its scoop to get a closer look at the instrument. The space agency published a new short animation made from individual still images that shows off Martian dirt as its vibrates out of the mole’s burrowing hole.

The InSight rover features a variety of tools that are designed to investigate the Martian world, including its soil and environment. One of the instruments on the rover is the ‘mole,’ which is a burrowing device that bounces to push itself down into the dirt. There was a problem, however — NASA found that some parts of the surface are very dense, particularly its duricrust and its ‘cement-like’ texture.

The mole instrument wasn’t able to penetrate this hard shell, resulting in it simply bouncing in place without progress and eventually bouncing back out of the hole. NASA spent many weeks evaluating this issue and coming up with possible solutions, eventually settling on a risky maneuver. The space agency used the InSight rover’s robotic arm scoop to gently press down on the mole, providing resistance to help it ‘punch’ down through the dirt.

Last month, NASA reported that its workaround appeared to be effective and that the mole was working its way farther down into the Martian surface. The space agency reported some success in June and is back with the aforementioned animation that shows debris moving up from the small burrow. NASA will remove the scoop sometime over the next few weeks to evaluate how much of an impact it has had on the mole.

It’s unclear at this point whether the mole will ultimately be able to burrow as deeply into the Martian surface as NASA requires to get vital temperature data. Regardless, the lessons learned from this potential failure are increasing researchers’ knowledge about the Red Planet and will help inform future missions.


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