NASA’s InSight Lander, which is hard at work on the Martian surface, has managed to escape out of a tight situation. The soil is clumpier than it was thought, and the whole machine, not just the ‘mole’ instrument, became trapped. Several attempts to free the probe took place without a result, and engineers had to take a different approach to the problem. They managed to free the probe by applying a kinetic impact. In plain words, they forced InSight to hit the drilling arm with a shovel.
The procedure worked as expected, and the drilling probe was pulled out without any traces of noticeable damage. At first, the experts were confident that the probe would manage to dig without problems through 16 feet of soil. It managed to reach a depth of 8 meters before it ran into an issue.
It goes without saying that the event brought into the light the difficulties of operating a robotic mission located at an impressive distance away from Earth.
NASA’s InSight’s ‘mole’ is back at work on Mars
At first, it was thought that some rocks or gravel were encountered. While the probe was designed with the ability to push away smaller rocks, it was decided that the best idea is to cease the digging process until a solution that allowed the extraction of the probe was found.
This wasn’t the first issue related to the Heat and Physical Properties Package, which should track a series of natural phenomena that take place under the surface. A delay took place at an earlier stage during the attempt as a glitch prevented the deployment of the hammer, which is needed to pierce through the dry surface layer.
While using the robotic arm of InSight as an emergency tool was an inspired idea, there were a few risks. An excessively strong strike could have compromised some of the more sensitive parts of the probe, and several simulations were conducted before the attempt took place.
As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.