Every wrencher knows that sometimes the only cure for a misbehaving machine is to just hit the damn thing. The finely tuned machines of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are no exception. Even a whole planet away, with different gravity and no magnetic field, machines just work better with the application of a little bit of brute force.
NASA’s InSight lander got into a bit of trouble last year while digging around in the Martian soil, and it was only freed as of last week. A burrowing sensor, named “the mole” by scientists, was meant to dive 15 feet under Mars’ sandy surface to monitor the core temperature of planet but got stuck half way to its ideal depth. Underneath the sand things got more soil-like, and that proved tougher on the mole than scientist expected, according to PopSci.
A bit of good news from #Mars: our new approach of using the robotic arm to push the mole appears to be working! The teams @NASAJPL/@DLR_en are excited to see the images and plan to continue this approach over the next few weeks. ???? #SaveTheMole
— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) March 13, 2020
Over the last year scientists tried everything to free their little mole. Finally, they came to their last option:
Over the last year they’ve tried to punch down the walls of the hole around the mole, to fill in the hole with nearby sand, and to give the mole more purchase by pinning it against the side of the hole with the scoop. But to no avail.
In late February, the team moved on to what Spohn calls “plan C.” They positioned the scoop above the mole’s tail and pushed it straight down into the dirt. The move is risky, because a delicate tether that provides power and communications from the lander attaches to the back part of the mole, and a hard whack could damage it. “This is our last resort,” Spohn said in an interview last fall.
But all those earlier manoeuvres weren’t in vain, because months of practice have given the team some serious scoop-operating skills, making plan C seem a bit safer than it once did. “We all became more confident that the risk of accidental damage to the tether (with its power and data lines) was small enough to be worth taking,” Spohn wrote on his blog in February.
Scientist believe they can get the mole burrowing again and the little guy will be able to complete its mission. The plan is to get it down to its ideal depth and then bury the whole instrument, where it will transmit data on the temperature changes near Mars’ core and possibly answer questions about how the planet formed.
I know you guys like to solve your problems with a whole lot of thinking but I hate to tell you it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out something that is stuck just needs a good bop to get going again. Grease monkeys across this great land could have saved you nerds a whole lot of sciencing.