After going nowhere for the past several months, the InSight lander’s heat probe chewed through three centimeters of Martian dirt during a recent test. Still a long way from the 16 feet NASA is hoping for, but a great start after being stuck since late February.
The test appears to confirm that the ‘mole’ wasn’t stopped by a rock, but rather a lack of friction. The heat probe’s drill uses a self-hammering mechanism to push through the dirt. It needs dirt to fall back around it to have the resistance to hammer against. Without it, it can’t go deeper.
When the team announced earlier this month its plan to get the heat probe moving again, they theorized a layer of duricrust (a kind cemented soil that was thicker than expected) wasn’t falling back around the drill.
The tweet above shows how the InSight team is using the lander’s robotic claw to pin the ‘mole’ against the wall of the shallow hole. And from the first test, it appears the pinning technique is working like a charm.
NASA’s InSight Twitter account sent a similar tweet echoing DLR’s good news.
You might notice the spin in the cable attached to the ‘mole’ as well. A commenter on Twitter asked DLR about it, and they said they expect this rotation to slow once the ‘mole’ is deeper into the ground.
Today’s news is great, but the heat probe still has a long way to go. Before it got stuck, it hit a depth of 14 inches. The target depth is 16 feet. And while the robotic claw can pin the mole against the wall of the hole right now, it won’t be able to as it gets deeper. The InSight team hopes this layer of thicker dirt gives way to the Martian soil they were expecting to see soon.
InSight’s heat probe is expected to deliver some of the most important science of the mission. Cross your fingers these three centimeters are the start of 15 feet more of digging. Thankfully, InSight’s other instruments are performing well. Give a pair of marsquakes a listen.