NASA has been forced to end its mission to drill down into the Martian soil after its unique geology proved too much for the InSight lander. The InSight probe was equipped with a probe -- dubbed the Mole -- which was going to drill up to 10 feet into the ground. However, the agency said that the soil’s “unexpected tendency to clump” meant that the drill could never get enough purchase to function properly.
It’s the end of a long saga that began at the start of 2019 when the properties of Mars’ soil proved tough to crack. After plenty of trial-and-error, and some help from InSight’s robotic arm, the hardware only managed to reach a few centimeters into the ground. The last attempt took place on Saturday, January 9th, as NASA techs tried one last-ditch (unsuccessful) attempt to complete the mission.
All is not lost, however, since the Mole’s failure has helped engineers develop different strategies for future missions. In addition, now that the InSight arm has been used in this manner, the probe will bury its seismometer to help it get cleaner, more accurate readings of the martian geology. And InSight’s mission isn’t over -- its expected lifespan has been extended until at least the end of 2022.
InSight will be tasked with determining if the Martian core is liquid or solid, examining weather data and, when the Perseverance lands, building the first meteorological network humans have built on another planet. Just don’t ask it to help you put up a shelf.