NASA stops efforts to launch the heat flow probe of Mars InSight

NASA has suspended plans to send a heat flow investigation on its InSight lander to the Mars surface after approximately 2 years of combat. During a January 14 announcement, NASA said that a final attempt to pound the “mole” into the surface of Mars on January 9 failed to make progress. 500 hammer strokes were carried out by the mole, attempting to push itself into the rock, but just 2 to 3 centimeters just below the surface stayed in place. “We have given it all we have, but Mars, as well as our courageous mole, remain irreconcilable,” stated Tilman Spohn, who works at the German space agency DLR, in a NASA report, the lead researcher of what is officially referred to as Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3).

HP3 was built to dig down into the soil up to 5 meters depth, gathering data from the Martian interior mostly on heat flow. In early 2019, soon after InSight arrived on Mars in November 2018, the lander positioned the instrument kit on the surface. However, shortly after the hammering operation began, the test ran into trouble, as the mole stopped some 30 centimeters into the soil. Scientists first suspected that perhaps a rock or tougher subsurface sheet had fallen into the probe. The instrument group soon concluded that the issue was that the investigation, as well as surrounding regolith, lacked friction, allowing the mole to bounce as it hammered, trapping it in place.

Although these attempts were successful at bringing the mole entirely below the surface and surrounded by a few centimeters of the regolith, there was little improvement made in further hammering efforts, contributing to the decision to keep the mole where it is. Project researchers determined that the soil at the landing area of InSight had different characteristics from that used by the other landers, which were used to direct the instrument’s construction. “We’re so appreciative of the group who worked tirelessly to have the mole of InSight further into the planet. It was exciting to see them solving problems from thousands of miles away,’ stated Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate science administrator, in the report. “That’s why we take chances at NASA. To understand what works as well as what does not, we have to push the boundaries of technology.”

“That’s why we take chances at NASA. To understand what works as well as what does not, we have to push the boundaries of technology.” Just under a week after the agency revealed it was continuing InSight’s mission to the end of 2022, then move to avoid deploying the mole arrived. NASA stated at the moment that the extended project “might continue to launch the mole (at low priority)” but did not discuss how long these attempts would proceed. The other primary instrument of InSight, a seismometer, continues to operate well, recording Martian quakes. “The extended project of InSight will concentrate on producing a long-term, high-quality seismic dataset,” NASA Agency said in its declaration of the extended mission on January 8.