KEY POINTS

  • The InSight lander will push the mole into the Martian surface
  • The mole will take accurate temperature readings of Mars' subsurface
  • Pushing the mole is like a last-resort maneuver for NASA 

NASA is preparing to execute a maneuver that will push the mole further down into the hole than the InSight lander has dug on Mars. Doing so will enable the agency to collect accurate measurements of the heat coming from the Red Planet’s interior.

NASA’s lander has been digging into the Martian surface for almost a year now. The goal of the procedure is to deploy a self-hammering mole into the ground. Unfortunately, Mars’ hard surface is making it difficult for the lander to get the mole successfully into the ground.

In the next couple of days, NASA will use the scoop on InSight’s robotic arm to push the mole into the ground. This device is a 16-inch-long spike that’s part of the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package. Through its self-hammering feature, the mole can reach a depth of up to 16 feet.

Unfortunately, the hard surface on Mars is causing the mole to bounce upwards and out of the hole. As a solution, NASA is planning on using the lander to push the mole deeper into the ground. This will provide the device with enough support in order to successfully hammer itself into the ground.

A ribbon-like tether attached to the mole contains sensors that can take heat readings of the soil. Once the mole has reached the appropriate depth, these sensors will measure the subsurface temperature of Mars. According to NASA, the data collected by the mole will provide valuable information about rocky planets such as Mars and Earth.

“While burrowing into the soil, it is designed to drag with it a ribbon-like tether that extends from the spacecraft,” NASA explained in a statement.

“Temperature sensors are embedded along the tether to measure heat coming deep from within the planet's interior to reveal important scientific details about the formation of Mars and all rocky planets, including Earth,” the agency continued.

Pushing the mole into the ground is considered as sort of a last-resort effort for NASA. The team operating the lander has avoided the maneuver in the past because it might damage the mole’s tether. But, after conducting tests on Earth, the team members are confident that they will be able to execute the plan successfully.

Mole push test This test using an engineering model of the InSight lander here on Earth shows how the spacecraft on Mars will use its robotic arm to press on a digging device, called the "mole." Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech