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NASA Fixes Mars Lander By Telling It to Hit Itself With a Shovel

March 18th 20__Dan Robitzski__Filed Under: Robots & Machines
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Percussive Maintenance

NASA’s InSight lander, which is currently on the surface of Mars, has faced some unexpected problems during its mission to explore and study the planet.

Namely, a digging probe that was built to burrow beneath the surface like a jackhammer got stuck because Mars’ soil is clumpier than scientists expected, Popular Science reports.

After a few failed attempts to get it out, NASA had to get a bit creative. Ultimately, it freed the probe up by giving it a solid thwack with InSight’s shovel.

Push Shovel

NASA expected its probe, dubbed “the mole,” to dig its way through sand-like terrain. But because the Martian soil clumped together, the whole apparatus got stuck in place.

Programming InSight’s robotic arm to land down on the mole was a risky, last-resort maneuver, PopSci reports, because it risked damaging fragile power and communication lines that attached nearby. Thankfully, engineers spent a few months practicing in simulations before they made a real attempt.

Bon Voyage

With tentative results that the mole is working again, NASA hopes to again task it with burrowing beneath the surface of Mars.

Once it’s down there, it will hopefully be able to complete its research mission: analyzing temperature fluctuations inside the Red Planet in an attempt to understand how similar Mars’ core is to that of Earth.

READ MORE: At long last, NASA’s probe finally digs in on Mars [Popular Science]

More on InSight: NASA Isn’t Sure What’s Wrong With Its InSight Mars Lander