WASHINGTON — A probe on NASA’s InSight Mars lander that has been stuck for months is moving deeper into the surface again thanks to an assist from the lander’s robotic arm.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Oct. 17 that the probe, or “mole,” for the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package instrument on the lander had moved about two centimeters deeper into the surface since Oct. 8. That marks the first movement into the surface since the mole got stuck about 30 centimeters below the surface in early March.
The mole is equipped with an internal mechanism to hammer into the surface. The lack of progress led engineers to conclude that a lack of friction with the surrounding the soil was causing the mole to simply bounce in place. However, the lack of movement could also be explained if the mole had run into a rock.
That alternative explanation is now ruled out. “Seeing the mole’s progress seems to indicate that there’s no rock blocking our path,” said Tilman Spohn, principal investigator for the instrument at the German space agency DLR, in a statement. “That’s great news! We’re rooting for our mole to keep going.”
In the last few months, ...