NASA's 'mole' machine burrows underground

The thermal detector, nicknamed "mole", began to crawl into rocky soil on Mars's surface for research after more than a year of trouble.

The InSight landing station landed on Mars in November 2018 with the mission of helping scientists collect data, thereby understanding more about the geology and structure inside the red planet. The mole is one of InSight's three key tools used to accomplish this task. However, the team of experts in charge cannot make it work as planned.


After much effort over the past year, the mole's mission has finally progressed, Live Science reported on June 6. "With some help from the robot arm, it seems that the mole is now underground. Fixing the problem from a distance of tens of millions of kilometers is really a big challenge. We still need to track the detector." can the heat dig itself deeper? "the team shared on Twitter.

The mole is equipped with a series of thermal sensors and attaches itself to the main body of the InSight landing station with a tail-like extension cord. It operates in the Elysium Planitia plains, capable of digging up to 5 meters deep. According to the plan, when the mole descends, the heat sensors will study the rock it digs and evaluate the energy emitted from the core of Mars.

Moles are a new type of tool in exploring red planets. Experts have tested it very carefully in soil containers, but such tests will not be able to fully coincide with the situation on Mars. The mole had a hard time starting to dig down the red planet's surface. It is always stuck or turned out. The team tried many different ways but got in trouble.   

According to the latest solution, while the mole digs itself down, InSight's robotic arm will gently push the back, preventing it from bouncing off. This is a job that requires sophistication. Specialists should be careful not to damage the connecting line between a mole and the landing station.

Picture 1 of NASA's 'mole' machine burrows underground
While the mole digs itself down, InSight's robotic arm will gently push the back, preventing it from bouncing off.

This solution has brought initial success, according to Tilman Spohn, the mole leader. The tool is now almost entirely within Mars. It went down another 7 cm from March 11 to May 30. Next, the mole will have to crawl deeper, beyond the help of the robot arm. This depends on its grip on the surrounding rock.

However, external factors may be about to make it difficult for moles to work. "Winter is coming to the Northern Hemisphere of Mars and the dust storm season will begin soon. The atmosphere has become dusty, the energy that solar photovoltaic panels begin to decrease. This may affect the our implementation of energy-consuming operations with robotic arms in the near future, " said Spohn.  

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