NASA says Mars digger burrowing again after snag


Sat, Oct 19, 2019 - Page 7

A Mars lander’s digger is burrowing into the red planet again after hitting a snag seven months ago.

NASA on Thursday said that the mechanical mole has penetrated 2cm over the past week. While just a baby step, scientists are thrilled with the progress.

“We’re rooting for our mole to keep going,” lead scientist Tilman Spohn of the German Aerospace Center said in a statement.

The German device is meant to penetrate 5m into Mars to measure internal temperatures. It barely got 30cm down before stalling in March, soon after starting to hammer.

Over the weeks and months, engineers devised a backup plan: To help, the robot arm on the InSight lander is pressing against the drill to create enough friction for it to keep digging.

Since Tuesday last week, the mole has hammered 220 times on three occasions, making slow, but steady progress.

Scientists said it would take time — and lots more hammering — to see how deep it goes.

“When we first encountered this problem, it was crushing, but I thought: ‘Maybe there’s a chance — let’s keep pressing on,’ and right now I’m feeling giddy,’” said Troy Hudson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is leading the recovery effort.

InSight landed on Mars in November last year.