Mars Soil Is Very Weird, the Mole's Struggles Show

Space.com | 10/22/2019 | Mike Wall
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The mole's Mars struggles have not been in vain.

The burrowing heat probe aboard NASA's InSight Mars lander was designed to go 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 meters) underground, using a self-hammering tool dubbed "the mole." But the mole got stuck just a foot (0.3 m) or so down shortly after its February 2019 deployment and could not be budged for months.

Heads - While - InSight - Project - Manager

"We scratched our heads for quite a while trying to figure out what we could do," InSight project manager Tom Hoffman, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said Friday (Oct. 18) during a presentation at the 22nd Annual International Mars Society Convention in Los Angeles.

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InSight - Team - Explanations - Mole - Lack

The InSight team homed in on two possible explanations for the mole's lack of progress: Either there was a big rock blocking its way, or the little digger had lost friction with the Red Planet's soil. Without a good grip on the dirt, the mole can't move much.

Last week, we got some good news: The InSight team had gotten the mole to move a few centimeters using a "pinning" technique, pressing the lander's soil scoop against the mole to create friction. That result showed that hypothesis number two was probably on the money and offered hope that the mole could eventually get down to its prescribed depth.

Mole - Team - Things - Mars - Example

But even if that doesn't end up happening, the mole will still have taught the team some interesting things about Mars. For example, unlike typical holes dug here on Earth, the one excavated by InSight's mole has no lip of dirt around its rim, Hoffman said.

"Where did the soil go?" he said. "Basically, it got...
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