It’s been a long road for InSight’s Mole. InSight landed on Mars almost two years ago, in November 2018. While the lander’s other instruments are working fine and returning scientific data, the Mole has been struggling to hammer its way into the surface of the planet.
After much hard work and a lot of patience, the Mole has finally succeeded in burying itself all the way into the Marian regolith.
Personnel at NASA and the DLR have been working for months to get InSight’s Mole working. They’re at a disadvantage, since the average distance between Earth and Mars is about 225 million km (140 million miles.) They’ve tried a number of things to get the Mole into the ground, and they may finally be making some progress.
There’s at least one small bit of good news in these challenging Covid-19 times. And it’s playing out on the surface of Mars. In a brief Tweet, NASA says that using InSight’s robotic arm to push the Mole into the ground is working, somewhat.
The mole is the name given to the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument on NASA’s Mars InSight lander. It’s job is to penetrate into the Martian surface to a depth of 5 meters (16 ft) to measure how heat flows from the planet’s interior to the surface. It’s part of InSight’s mission to understand the interior structure of Mars, and how it formed.
But it’s stuck at about 35 centimers (14 inches.) The mole can do science shy of its maximum depth of 5 meters, but not this shallow. And NASA, and the DLR (German Aerospace Center) who provided the mole, have a new plan to fix it.
NASA’s InSight lander is busy deploying its Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) into the Martian soil and has encountered some resistance. The German Aerospace Center (DLR), who designed and built the HP3 as part of the InSight mission, has announced that the instrument has hit not one, but two rocks in the sub-surface. For now the HP3 is in a resting phase, and it’s not clear what will happen next.