Mar, 2021 - By WMR
NASA announced on 14 January that the InSight’s heat probe, dubbed ‘Martian mole’, will cease any further attempts of digging into the soil after encountering an unyielding regolith.
The heat probe encountered what could possibly be described as ‘friction issues’ during its attempts to dig into the Red Planet’s surface with the intent of understanding the internal heat sources that are fueling the planet. When the mole tried to bury into the soil it kept bouncing back from the significantly tough soil. As a result, the space agency has decided to abandon its mission of deploying the first and only underground Martian mole. During a meeting of the review panel, it was concluded that the probe may power off well before the extended mission ended in December 2022. The plans to extend the Insight mission was also a few days before this decision was made.
The InSight has made one final attempt to drive the mole into the surface on 9 January 2021. In a statement released by NASA, the team confirmed that the mole had successfully managed to move an inch under the surface and the robotic arm on the spacecraft was used to scoop soil onto the probe and then push it down to create more friction. Commands from the ground control team were to hammer 500 times into the surface to wedge the mole in, but the spacecraft could not move from its position. Moreover, the original plan was to set up sensors after the mole was driven 3 meters into the surface. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it further than a few centimeters.
NASA noted that future missions would definitely want to move underground for purposes such as hunting for below-the-surface microbial life, and water ice. The Insight team has attributed the failed attempt at digging into the Red Planet’s surface to unexpected properties of the regolith which made it harder to break through the material.