NASA may have a multi-billion dollar budget and some of the most advanced technology in the world, but when the Mars InSight lander got into a spot of bother, scientists came up with a charmingly rudimentary fix for its space technology: Hit it with a shovel.
The trouble started when a heat probe, known as the “mole,” did not manage to dig into the red planet as planned last year.
This was due to a lack of friction, which the probe needs in order to burrow into the soil, according to a NASA statement.
After several months, the NASA InSight Twitter account outlined its strategy as “giving it a push with my robotic arm.”
And the team has now announced that progress is being made.
“A bit of good news from #Mars: our new approach of using the robotic arm to push the mole appears to be working!” it said on twitter.
Now the team hopes the mole can get on with measuring heat under the surface of the planet, providing information that will help scientists work out how Mars, and all rocky planets, were formed.
InSight, or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a two-year mission to explore a part of Mars that we know the least about: Its deep interior.
The suite of geophysical instruments on InSight sounds like a doctor’s bag, giving Mars its first “checkup” since the planet formed. Together, those instruments take measurements of Mars’ vital signs, like its pulse, temperature and reflexes — which translate to internal activity like seismology and the planet’s wobble as the sun and its moons tug on Mars.
It has also recorded evidence of seismic activity, including 174 seismic events across Mars — and 20 events with a magnitude of three or four.
Evidence of seismic activity on Mars that surprised the NASA team was part of a suite of six studies, published in February.